Cook backs managers. . . Health Bill. . . Flu hits hospitals. . . Clarke attacks managers. . . £13m to cut waiting lists. . . NHS gets deputy chief

Shadow health secretary Robin Cook has challenged the government not to 'pass the buck' to managers for the NHS's current financial problems. Releasing a survey showing three out of four health authorities in England and Wales face deficits by the end of the year, Mr Cook said: 'The problem quite clearly is a national one which stems from the source of funding.'

The chances of amendments to the NHS and Community Care Bill were boosted by a government majority on its second reading reduced from about 100 to 76 through abstentions and two Tory MPs voting against. One of the two, Nicholas Winterton, said the rebellion would have been greater but for British Medical Association's counter-productive campaign and the recent Tory leadership election, which had encouraged MPs to close ranks.

London hospitals are facing their worst crisis for over 15 years as the flu epidemic adds to the toll of recent staff cuts and bed closures.

The London emergency bed service issued red alerts this week in North East and South East Thames, and yellow warnings in North West and South West Thames regions.

Health secretary Kenneth Clarke launched an attack on managers by claiming that nurse regrading was an example of why the service should be better run. 'No other organisation could have made such a Horlicks of such a change, ' he said.

The government is targeting£13m to cut the country's 100 longest waiting lists. The money will go directly to Birmingham University's inter-authority comparisons and consultancy unit, whose director, John Yates, said: 'There are no simple solutions to waiting lists.'

Peter Griffiths, former South Thames regional general manager, has been appointed NHS deputy chief executive. He is already working at the Department of Health, heading work on trusts.