SOUTHAMPTON and Winchester health chiefs are poised to launch a plan for the biggest single assault on hospital waiting times.

They are proposing to spend £11m on a series of measures including diagnosis and treatment centres at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester and the Royal South Hants Hospital in Southampton.

The DTCs would allow the hospitals to have more short-stay surgery, allowing waiting lists to be tackled faster and helping to relieve the chronic pressure on beds at the Winchester hospital.

Waiting times for routine operations would fall as three-quarters of planned surgery would be day cases, up from the current 65 per cent in Winchester and 55 per cent in Southampton.

Endoscopy and MRI scanning services would also be improved.

The multi-million-pound investment would allow annually an extra 7,400 day and intermediate surgery cases, 7,500 more endoscopies and 3,000 extra MRI scans.

A new computerised booking service would mean patients would have more say about the date of their operation.

In Winchester, the DTC would be based in a new four-storey building next to the Nightingale Wing featuring 28 new beds for short-stay patients.

Part of the new building could house the proposed cancer care centre to be funded by the Magpie Appeal.

Winchester and Eastleigh Healthcare NHS Trust will discuss the proposal at its meeting tomorrow.

The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Health Authority will consider the plans next month with final approval from the Department of Health.

Building work could start in April with the first patients being treated in October and the scheme finished by October 2004.