Former Conservative health secretary Virginia Bottomley says the NHS in her West Surrey constituency is in a 'dire' state and has called for health secretary Alan Milburn to see the extent of bed blocking and trolley waits for himself.

West Surrey health authority has an historic deficit of£18m, blamed in part on previous mismanagement, and overspending could top£20m this year.

Mrs Bottomley blames the 'funding blight' on Labour's pledge to tackle inequalities by redistributing spending in favour of areas of high deprivation.

West Surrey is one of the most affluent constituencies in the country, with well below average mortality and morbidity and well above average income and levels of employment.

'Tackling inequalities is Orwellian New Labour newspeak for imposing massive health and social services funding cuts on West Surrey, ' she told HSJ .

Bed blocking and acute nursing shortages - exacerbated by the high cost of living in the area - are leading to long waits for admission.

Low unemployment and competition from private sector nursing homes, which pay up to 30 per cent more than the NHS, add to the problems, although Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford has recently recruited 40 nurses from the Philippines.

Mrs Bottomley appealed to Mr Milburn to speed up plans for a new community hospital at Farnham.

Meanwhile, West Surrey health authority, along with other local HAs and trusts, is reviewing the function of a number of acute hospitals.

Nick Buchanan, chief officer of West Surrey and North East Hampshire community health council, said: 'The cheese has been pared to the rind, but there is a general feeling that the axe is going to fall somewhere.'

Kevin Aston, acting chief officer of South West Surrey CHC, said: 'We are looking at huge waiting times for admission from A&E units and delayed discharge and bed blocking accounts for around 40 cases per week.'

A statement from West Surrey HA said: 'We have already made significant savings and are planning more over the next couple of years. All NHS organisations in the area are working on a programme to ensure health services are sustainable for the future.

'Projects implemented now will achieve recurring savings of£11m by 2001 - a major achievement. But we need to find a further£10m.'

Mrs Bottomley told HSJ she has no intention of standing as the replacement for Jeffrey Archer as the Conservative candidate for mayor of London. She said: 'The thought of taking part in the election for mayor, and all that would entail holds no attraction at all.'