There are weeks when you wonder how long it will take the Tories to get their act together after the collective nervous breakdown they inflicted on themselves in the mid 1990s. 'I go canvassing - the voters still hate us, don't they?' a former Downing Street official confided at a party the other evening.

'Yes,' I replied. But there are signs that they are beginning to recover the will to earn their corn as Her Maj's loyal opposition, which may be the first step to rehabilitation. Last week showed several flickers of life which got little enough publicity; that stage comes next, if they're lucky.

In our own corner of the forest, Ann Widdecombe tried to spoil Frank Dobson's Commons statement on the extra£250m 'winter crisis' cash by accusing him of fiddling those belatedly falling waiting list figures. On BBC1's Breakfast with Frost (actually it was Toast with Michael Buerk; Frostie was sleeping off Charles' 50th bash), she was still hammering Dobbo's 'cheating' on Sunday.

Reading the Conservative charge sheet and Labour's instant rebuttal, I'm struck by the familiarity of it all - deja vu all over again as the baseball manager put it. Many of the accusations (longer waiting lists, list purges etc) were once levelled by Labour at Dame Virginia. Waiting lists are a crude measure that makes both sides sort-of-right.

Just as important, Ms Widdecombe has the same problem with her shadow chancellor, Francis Maude, as Chris Smith used to have with Gordon Brown in 1996-97: he won't let her match ministerial spending pledges.

The secretary of state was especially hard on Ms Widdecombe for suggesting that a Bradford man with metal pins in his arm due to be removed in 18 months, is not on the waiting list for 18 months. That's like suggesting 'all pregnant women should be placed on a nine-month waiting list,' said the Department of Health's rebuttal note.

He also flattered Lib Dem spokesman Simon Hughes with a whole press release to show that South Devon Healthcare trust had not fiddled its figures by creating a 'pending' list for outpatients. He had explained it to Hughes' Torbay ally Adrian Saunders last June.

I don't know what got into Simon and Adrian last week. They were the only Lib Dem MPs to vote against Paddy's new pact with Tony Blair. It does not bode well for health policy 'co-operation' with Frank, who is no keener on such talks than Mr Hughes.

The second flourish of Tory health publicity was more complicated and burst all over page 1 of The Express, courtesy of Alan Duncan MP and my press gallery colleague, Tony Bevins, who is famously tenacious and sometimes right. But was he right to highlight the DoH's problem with injections involving donated blood and plasma? Items that might - in theory - put 230,000 people (80,000 of them young mothers who are rhesus negative) at risk of new variant CJD?

As you may know, UK-based plasma has been phased out since the BSE crisis broke, but there is a worldwide shortage of anti-D immunoglobulin (which the rhesus negative mums need) and it has taken longer than expected. All this was made known, an irate Mr Dobson told the Commons in response to a 'private notice question' from Mr Duncan.

It is a highly technical issue, and my immunologist cousin tells me the risk is incalculable. But as with BSE/CJD (one prescient expert against the majority) or HIV (dismissed by the experts), some people are jittery. The Express story did not run much elsewhere.

My own feeling was much like that of GP and Isle of Wight Lib Dem MP Peter Brand, who said: 'I despair at headlines such as '230,000 at the risk of CJD jab'.'

The DoH's public health wing took a flood of anxious calls. Dobsonites accused Duncan of being 'utterly irresponsible', and Dobbo made his statement to show he is not the cover-up type. He is not. They have learned from Stephen Dorrell and Douglas Hogg's mishaps on BSE.

When I caught up with Rutland's Mr Duncan he was unapologetic. It may have been a marginal call, he conceded, but they had to beat the information out of Dobbo. Yes, there were problems with supplies, with surgical instrument cleaning. It is the opposition's job to 'fight our corner even if we risk firing blanks'. Amen to that at least.