Published: 19/09/2002, Volume II2, No. 5823 Page 5

The chair of the commons public accounts committee has condemned NHS waiting-times targets for distorting clinical priorities and claimed that 'deliberate manipulation' has 'undermined confidence in the NHS'.

Conservative MP Edward Leigh said the Department of Health needed to take a closer interest in ensuring that the NHS did not 'fiddle the figures' and that patients with long waits should be given more information about the options available to them.

The comments seem certain to ignite a political row about the NHS for the party conference season, which started last week with the publication of Liberal Democrat calls for national insurance contributions to be earmarked for the NHS and more devolution of decision making.

The PAC issued two reports on waiting lists and times and the 'extent and causes of inappropriate adjustments made by some NHS trusts' on Tuesday.

The first report concludes that 'the pressure to reduce waiting lists has led a significant number of consultants to treat some patients before others with higher clinical priority'.

The PAC says the DoH should survey consultants annually to assess the degree to which this is happening.

The second report, based on evidence from the comptroller and auditor general, reviews previously reported examples in which managers and staff made inappropriate adjustments to waiting lists.