HC Deb 14 February 1966 vol 724 cc896-7
38. Mr. Farr

asked the Minister of Health what is the average length of time a patient has to wait for a doctor's recommendation before gaining admission to a hospital for an operation.

Mr. K. Robinson

The time varies so much according to the operation that an average figure would have little meaning. Urgent cases are admitted without delay.

Mr. Farr

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in Leicestershire the time is increasing year by year and that a constituent of mine has had to wait as long as six years for admission to hospital and, during the whole of that time, has had a bag packed and has been taking tablets to relieve the pain?

Mr. Robinson

I will gladly look into any cases of which the hon. Gentleman tells me, but, in the country as a whole, a sample in-patient inquiry in 1961 indicated that, for non-urgent surgery, the median waiting time varied between about five and 12 weeks according to the type of operation required, and the strict average, that is, the mean waiting time, is between 9 and 21 weeks.

Mr. Manuel

Is my right hon. Friend aware that private patients going into pay beds get in very much more quickly and that the length of queues for ordinary patients is sometimes far too long? This could possibly mean that an operation will not be as successful as it might have been.

Mr. Robinson

To the extent that my hon. Friend's first allegation is true, this. I hope, will be remedied to some extent by the review of pay beds which I have asked hospital boards to undertake.

Mrs. Braddock

Is the Minister aware that the waiting lists are increasing the whole time and that there is much resentment in some places at the fact that, if patients offer to pay to go into hospital, they can jump the queue, leaving people who are very much more ill and need an operation more quickly well behind in the list? What steps is he taking to deal with this?

Mr. Robinson

As the House knows, this is something which I am very keen to contain, to reduce and to eliminate if I can. These are the purposes of the review of pay beds which is currently proceeding.

Mr. Frederic Harris

Is the Minister aware that the figures he was quoting from are four years old? Would it not be a good idea for him to have another inquiry to bring himself up to date and know the extent of this problem, which is very serious in many parts of the country?

Mr. Robinson

I should like to have a very much deeper analysis of waiting lists, because I do not think that they represent an altogether accurate estimate of the number of people who need to go into hospital. We need some more up-to-date statistics, but I quoted the latest we have.

Sir K. Joseph

Is the Minister aware that we understood that pay beds were always made available to people, whether they could pay or not, in cases of urgency? If this is so, will not the Minister say that he thoroughly approves of pay beds where they are not urgently needed for people who cannot afford to pay?

Mr. Robinson

I regret to say that it is not true that they are always used for patients who are non-paying if they are not occupied by paying patients. The advice which has always been tendered by my Department to hospital authorities is that this should be so, but this, in itself, is not an argument for pay beds.