§ Mr. Hancock
To ask the Secretary of State for Health what actions he is taking to reduce waiting lists for neurologists; and if he will make a statement. 
§ Mr. Hutton
The Government are reducing maximum waiting times. As part of the NHS Plan, the maximum waiting time for a first outpatient appointment will fall each year from over six months, down to five, four and finally three months by 2005. The Government's eventual objective is to reduce the maximum wait for any stage of treatment to three months. Provided that the Government can recruit the extra staff, and the National Health Service makes the necessary reforms, the Government hopes to achieve this objective by the end of 2008.
Manpower has been recognised as key to the successful delivery of the NHS Plan and the national service frameworks (NSF). The long term conditions care group workforce team has been set up to support workforce development in the fields of diabetes, renal and long-term conditions. Its aim is to help deliver a multidisciplinary and integrated health and social care workforce to support service improvement.
With regard to neurology, the care group makes recommendations on workforce numbers across the specialty including doctors and nurses. Recommendations are also made on changes in service delivery models to facilitate the best use of all staff.
Between September 1997 and March 2002, consultant numbers in neurology increased by 34 per cent.. During the same period, consultant numbers in neurosurgery increased by 21 per cent..
We are developing a national service framework for long-term conditions, which will have a particular focus on neurological conditions. It is scheduled for publication in 2004, and implementation from 2005. The NSF will help to drive up standards and improve the quality of, and access to, care for people with neurological conditions.