§ Mr. Hutton
The NHS Plan sets out the progress we want to make on waiting over the coming years. Each year maximum waiting times will fall so that, by the end of 2005, the maximum in-patient waiting time will be cut to six months and the maximum out-patient waiting time for a first outpatient appointment will be cut to three months. Urgent cases will continue to be treated much faster. All patients will benefit from shorter waiting times as maximum waiting times reduce in the years leading up to 2005.
As a step towards achieving the NHS Plan targets from 1 April 2002 the maximum waiting time for in-patients has been cut from 18 to 15 months and a new maximum waiting time of six months has been established for patients waiting for their first out-patient appointments with a consultant.
The "Action On" programmes have been established by the Government as part of the modernisation of the NHS. They are led by the National Patients' Access Team (NPAT). Their aim is to significantly encourage and disseminate best practice, improve access to care and to reduce variations in waiting times in the four areas with the longest waiting times: cataracts; orthopaedics; ear, nose and throat; and dermatology. Local services are helped to identify their constraints and to find effective solutions.