NEWS

A story that gives writers the chance to mention 80-week waits, brain scans and the private sector - all in the same sentence - was always going to be a winner for the mid-market tabloids.

Throw in a handwritten note to a patient offering to carry out the MRI scan privately at the same unit within a fortnight and There is a cracking health servicebashing story for someone.

But it was the posher end of the tabloid spectrum, The Times, that chose to lead Saturday's paper with the tale of the road accident victim who was told she would have to wait a year and a half for an scan at King's College Hospital in London unless she opted to pay.

It did not take long for the Daily Mail to pile in (its late edition of the same day, in fact), and decided within a couple of paragraphs that this was 'the latest illustration of the waiting times crisis engulfing the NHS'.

The Times trod more carefully, suggesting that this case did indeed highlight that diagnostics are a sticking point in the NHS's attempts to cut waiting lists, but evenhandedly praised the NHS's success in slashing waiting times so far.

The patient, who had been knocked down by a car and had suffered a number of broken bones and dizzy spells, understandably said she was insulted by the handwritten addendum to her letter from King's College Hospital trust offering more immediate private treatment. But the trust pointed out that this had been added because she had been discussing the possibility of 'going private' with her consultant.

And on closer inspection, reported in Monday's Times , the letter had only warned the patient that the worst-case scenario was an 80-week wait, if the consultant deemed her a very low priority. In fact, this patient is expected to have to wait only until September before she can have her scan.

This follow-up story did not make it to page one.