HEALTH chiefs have hit back at comments made by Brentwood and Ongar MP Eric Pickles concerning patient waiting lists.

Mr Pickles challenged North Essex Health Authority to speed up its treatment of patients needing operations at hospitals including Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow.

Mr Pickles claimed North Essex Health Authority, which covers Ongar and the villages north of Brentwood, was the 12th worst in the country.

He added that figures from the National Audit Office showed that one in three patients were waiting more than six months before they received treatment, which he found "unacceptably long".

However, according to the Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust, the figures are two years old.

Spokesman Mark Purcell said: "I'm very surprised by what Mr Pickles said and I would like to know where he got his figures from.

"Princess Alexandra Hospital was one of the only NHS trusts in the south east actually to achieve and beat their waiting list targets for the last year, and we are very proud of that fact.

"However, we still recognise that we need to start bringing down waiting lists and we're trying to face that problem.

"We have a number of new initiatives to help tackle the problem to ensure that people who are waiting for treatment are seen as soon as possible."