Health minister Ben Bradshaw (pictured) has rejected claims that hospital patients are typically waiting longer for treatment now than when Labour came to power.
According to NHS figures, the average waiting time for inpatients was 41 days in 1997, but by last year the figure had jumped to 49 days.
The Conservatives seized on the statistics, saying that they show that Government targets are undermining patient care.
Shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: “This shows how the bigger picture gets neglected in order to meet the Government’s top-down targets.
“Patients get a worse deal overall. Labour has to accept that their obsession with bureaucracy and running the NHS around a few targets does not have the best outcome for patients. In meeting one target, another patient misses out. It is simply unfair.”
But Mr Bradshaw said the figures, which were calculated using a “median” average, disguise falls in waiting times and are “misleading”.
He said: “The real mean average waiting time of all inpatients has fallen dramatically from 89 days in 1997 to 73 days now and long waits have fallen even more.
“I am amazed that Andrew Lansley is seeking to defend the situation prior to 1997 and seeking to claim that waiting times in the NHS haven’t got better, which is blatantly false.
“This Government has completely transformed the waiting experience for millions of patients and we’re going even further.”
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