HC Deb 22 June 1971 vol 819 cc1168-9
2. Mr. William Price

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many people are now awaiting admission to hospitals in England and Wales.

Sir K. Joseph

A total of 555,883, on 31st December, 1970.

Mr. Price

Is not it clear that the figure will cause shock and dismay throughout the country, particularly because many of those people had been waiting many months to see a consultant before they even got on the list? Is not it time for the Minister to end the scandal of people with money jumping the queue? Will he say that at least for the present National Health Service beds will not be used for private purposes?

Sir K. Joseph

The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong in the conclusions he draws from the waiting list, which is 1 per cent. lower than when I last reported. Private beds are always used for non-paying patients where there is medical priority.

Mr. Chapman

Nevertheless, whether the figure has gone up or down in the last year, does not my right hon. Friend agree that to have over 500,000 people waiting is a scandalous state of affairs? Does not he agree also that this is because we have neither the resources nor the facilities, in terms of finance and staffing, in the National Health Service as at present constituted, and that if we are to reduce this number radically in the next few years we shall have to look to the restructuring of the service in terms both of administration and of finance?

Sir K. Joseph

It is easy for hon. Members to use words like "scandalous". I allowed myself last time to use the word "disgraceful" about the waiting list and was sharply rebuked by some doctors who have pointed out how much greater the throughput of in-patients has been over the last few years. But, of course, I agree that there is need for more resources.

Dr. Summerskill

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that waiting lists in themselves encourage people to pay in order to queue-jump and that the only ones who profit from this situation are the consultants and a privileged minority of patients? Is not this an abuse of the National Health Service?

Sir K. Joseph

I think that it is right that there should be an opportunity for the minority who wish to pay, provided they do not get in the way of priority needs for those who do not wish to pay, to have private treatment. But there is no evidence that there is queue-jumping.