HOSPITAL waiting lists have fallen across East Lancashire by 18 per cent over the last year - despite a slight rise last month.

The Blackburn, Hyndburn and Ribble Valley NHS Trust announced a 20 per cent drop in the number of patients awaiting surgery since March 1998, from 6,569 patients to 5,271 patients.

The Burnley Healthcare NHS Trust's inpatient waiting list fell by 16 per cent, from 6,157 patients in March 1998 to 5,203 patients.

The North West's major cancer treatment centre, the Christie Hospital, Manchester, also reduced its waiting list from 965 patients to 934, a drop of four per cent.

Waiting lists in the North West rose by 2,000 patients last month. Health Secretary Frank Dobson said this was due to many staff taking well-earned holidays during Easter after their heavy winter workload.

He said: "NHS staff had a hard time over Christmas and the New Year, yet in the first three months of this year, their unstinting and dedicated work reduced waiting lists by 100,000 nationally." Mr Dobson said 65,000 fewer people were now waiting for surgery than when the Government came to power in May 1997.

Hospital waiting lists jumped by more than 100,000 patients during the Government's first year in office but during the last year they have been reduced nationally by 220,000 patients.

Mr Dobson said: "We promised that by the end of this Parliament we would reduce waiting lists to 100,000 lower than the figure we inherited. We will deliver our promise this year.

"This won't require the spectacular reductions that we achieved last year. More attention will be concentrated on outpatients and on coping with the Millennium, and inpatient lists may fluctuate a little."

Nationally, the NHS dealt with 600,000 extra outpatients last year and this year the figure is expected to rise to a third of a million new outpatients, bringing the total to 11 million outpatients for the first time in the history of the NHS.

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.