Shadow health secretary Ann Widdecombe launched her first assault on the government's NHS record this week as health secretary Frank Dobson claimed 3,100 beds would open or stay open thanks to the government's waiting list initiative.

Mr Dobson said the government's pounds500m cash injection had allowed 1,100 beds earmarked for closure to stay open and 2,000 more to open.

But, speaking before an Opposition day debate, Ms Widdecombe accused Mr Dobson of a 'bungled PR exercise' and said the government had 'short- changed' the NHS by pounds750m.

Ms Widdecombe's deputy, Alan Duncan, added: 'Dobson says he will get 1,100 beds from planned hospital closures but still doesn't know what closures are planned.'

Institute of Health Services Management director Karen Caines welcomed the announcement, but said it would be a 'dereliction of duty if ministers were not fully aware of proposed hospital closures'.

See Comment, page 17.