The Welsh health service has been set stringent targets on waiting-list reduction which health and social services secretary Jane Hutt insists can be met with a £40m allocation made in May.

Ms Hutt announced the new targets at last week's meeting of the Welsh Assembly's health and social services committee, just as the latest hospital activity statistics revealed that waiting lists are still rising in Wales.

The outpatient waiting list rose 5 per cent to 160,844 in the quarter to 31 March 2000, while the inpatient and day case waiting list rose 7.4 per cent to 79,843.

There are now 4,593 people who have been waiting more than 18 months. The increases occurred despite increased activity.

The new targets demand a reduction in the all-Wales waiting list for inpatient and day case treatment to about 65,500 by 31 March next year.

Health authorities must also:

eliminate waiting times of over six months for cataract treatment;

halve the number of people waiting more than six months for a first outpatient appointment;

eliminate most waits of more than 12 months for inpatient and day case treatment by the end of June 2001;

agree a rolling programme to manage demand and establish sustainable booked admissions systems.

The targets do not include orthopaedics and plastic surgery.

Ms Hutt admitted that there were particular capacity problems in these specialties and has asked HAs to develop longer-term plans to tackle them.

NHS Confederation spokesman Robert Skinner said: 'These are very challenging targets; there is no question about that.

'The service will do everything it can and redouble efforts to meet them.'

However, he warned that long-term capacity building was needed to rectify years of under-investment in the NHS in Wales.

Ms Hutt said: 'The funding I allocated this year will allow HAs to achieve these aims. This is good news for patients.

'I also intend that some£35m of the£40m which is available this year should be provided on a recurrent basis which will allow a sustained improvement in waiting lists and emergency pressures.'

Liberal Democrat health spokesperson Kirsty Williams welcomed the inpatient target, but said that meeting it would tackle only the waiting list increase that had occurred since Labour came to power in 1997.

The omission of orthopaedics was a disappointment, she added. 'These patients wait the longest and are in great pain and discomfort.'