Published: 04/03/2004, Volume II4, No. 5895 Page 3

Former health secretary Alan Milburn has said that NHS patients should have a legal right to operations within a maximum waiting time.

The idea is part of a set of proposals Mr Milburn has put together for the government's election manifesto to try and ensure a third Labour term in office.

At a community consultation conference in London on Tuesday, he said a Labour promise that NHS patients should wait no more than three months for hospital treatment should be 'enshrined' in law so patients have 'the right to redress should the guarantee not be met'.Mr Milburn said that 'similar legal guarantees could be considered for other public services to shift the balance of power decisively in favour of consumers'.

He also wants to see the use of consultation widen to help government decide policy and to ensure that members of the public sit on panels to decide on local and central government priorities.

Mr Milburn said that the government should use 'the mutual model embodied in NHS foundation trusts' to extend power to local communities.