A NORTH-EAST grandfather says he has had to endure four years of pain after being promised a vital operation.

Surgery to treat 58-year-old John Darby's condition has been cancelled twice.

His case came to light only a week after the Government clashed with Conservatives over the plight of grandmother Margaret Dixon, whose shoulder operation has been postponed seven times.

Tory leader Michael Howard was criticised by the Prime Minister and Health Secretary John Reid for using Mrs Dixon's story to score political points.

Last night, Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "More and more cases like Mr Darby's are coming to light."

Mr Lansley added: "The system is failing hard-working staff and patients alike because resources are not getting to the front line - Government bureaucracy and targets constantly get in the way."

Divorcee Mr Darby, from Peterlee County Durham, went to his GP in October 2000 complaining of a swelling in his groin area.

He was referred to a hospital specialist and diagnosed as suffering from a hydrocele - a painful build-up of fluid in the testicles. Mr Darby said: "I need it doing, I really do. Nothing seems to be happening. I am just at the end of my tether.

"I have got no axe to grind with the Government, but I do boil over when they say the waiting lists are down.

"The hydrocele is getting bigger all the time and it is damned uncomfortable."

Mr Darby was listed for an operation at the University Hospital of Hartlepool in 2001, but half-an-hour before admission time, he said he was told it had been cancelled because of a bed shortage.

In April 2002, he was again sent in, but doctors postponed the procedure because he had high blood pressure and a lung condition.

Mr Darby, a retired fibreglass laminator, accepts his lung condition could make an operation dangerous, but said: "Going back to 2001, there was no risk at all. It was just a straight-forward operation.

"They knew I had a chronic lung disease which is getting worse year-by-year."

Mr Darby said that despite pestering authorities for treatment, it was not until February last year that he heard from the hospital again.

He then had to undergo another scan in May, which confirmed the problem still existed, and wait a further eight months for an outpatient's appointment in January.

A spokesman for North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust said: "There are many reasons why a patient remains on, or is removed from, a waiting list.

"In some cases, the patient cancels their operation, and in other situations, the patient is just not well enough for surgery.

"We appreciate that waiting for an operation of any sort can be difficult."