Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt stood by comments that the NHS was enjoying its best year yet when she visited Birmingham yesterday but reiterated "tough decisions" had to be made by some trusts.

Ms Hewitt was visiting University Hospital Birmingham's new multi-million pound cancer treatment, diagnosis and monitoring suites when she said the #800million deficit faced by the NHS was "manageable".

"The overall deficit across the NHS is around one per cent. It is like someone on #20,000 per year and ending the year #200 down. It is a problem but a manageable problem," she said.

"A minority of hospitals - 7 per cent - account for around 50 per cent of the deficit and, of course, that doesn't just impact on those organisations but on other parts of the NHS, having to hold back to compensate for overspending, and it can't go on."

North Staffordshire, she said, was one of those which had failed to modernise and become more efficient by taking advantage of resource-saving concepts like day surgery.

A clampdown on the use of agency staff would save each hospital more than #5million, she said.

Services in the West Midlands, she said, would not suffer as a result of the cuts.

"Here in Birmingham cancer patients are being treated faster and better than five years ago.

"We are going to stick to the six-month maximum wait announced in December, and for most people it will be much less," she said.

However Margaret Homer, aged 67, from Stourbridge, who was at the hospital during the visit, claimed her son, who suffers from spina bifida and hydrocephalus, was kept on a hospital trolley in a local hospital for 24 hours.

He was taken in two weeks ago and a week later was transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

"Has Patricia Hewitt got a family?" she asked. "If so, she wouldn't want to go through what I've gone through. My son was in pain on a hospital trolley, and the nurses are run ragged."