HC Deb 06 April 1971 vol 815 cc235-6
18. Mr. William Price

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is his estimate of the total number of people awaiting admission to hospitals within the Birmingham Regional Hospital Board area.

Sir K. Joseph

About 61,000 on 31st December, 1970.

Mr. Price

That is a devastating answer which will cause dismay throughout the Midlands, even allowing for the fact that many of them are not emergency cases. Will the right hon. Gentleman look into one matter for me? Is he satisfied that, over the past 20 years, the Birmingham Regional Hospital Board has had its fair share of available capital resources?

Sir K. Joseph

I should need notice to go into the record in that respect, but I note that the Birmingham Regional Hospital Board is spending a much larger sum this year than it spent in previous years. The waiting list is, I fear, only just about the national average.

Mr. Marks

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a widespread and understandable belief that one can jump the queue by paying a fee for a consultation and thereby get priority for a National Health Service bed? Will he make a full inquiry into this state of affairs?

Sir K. Joseph

This Government, like the last Government, encourage private practice for a moderate proportion of National Health Service beds. Hon. Members should recognise that in the Birmingham region about 1½ per cent. of the beds are available for private patients. I do not propose to discourage this practice. I have a report about alleged irregularities, which I am about to study.

Mrs. Knight

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that a considerable number of people on the waiting list, especially children waiting for E.N.T. treatment, find their waiting difficulties exacerbated as a result of the Labour Government's closure of Moseley Hall Hospital, about which they were warned by the then Opposition?

Sir K. Joseph

I am sure that, if my hon. Friend says so, there is something in it, but I have no knowledge of that at the moment.

Dr. Summerskill

In view of the serious and alarming figures which the right hon. Gentleman has given, will he have a report not only on the Birmingham area but extended nationally to see that this sort of thing is not going on in other parts of the country?

Sir K. Joseph

The hon. Lady need not be hypocritical about it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw!"] Not for a moment will I withdraw. The hon. Lady gives the impression that the waiting lists are worse than they were under her Government. The waiting lists are a disgrace, and this Government propose to do something about them.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

We are not at this moment protesting about the length of the waiting lists. We are asking the right hon. Gentleman whether he realises that the present occupancy of private beds is a crying scandal in the Birmingham area.

Sir K. Joseph

If there are irregularities, they will be reported to me in the report which I am about to read. I do not accept that private beds as such are in any way a scandal.