§ 12. Mr. Golding
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many patients are on the waiting list of the North Staffordshire hospitals; what is the average delay in receiving treatment; what are the causes of delay; and whether she will make a statement.
§ Dr. Owen
Four thousand, five hundred and fifty-five at 31st December 1974. Waiting times differ between specialities, and during 1974 they varied between about 11 weeks for ophthalmology and 20 weeks for ENT. These figures are broadly comparable with the latest available figures for the West Midlands Region. I know of no particular difficulties affecting the waiting lists in North Staffordshire hospitals.
§ Mr. Golding
Do not these figures reveal the totally unnecessary discomfort and anxiety which is caused to a very large number of people in North Staffordshire? Will my hon. Friend ensure that 276 greater resources are allocated to North Staffordshire hospitals, which have long been neglected? In particular, will he make provision for the replacement and extension of geriatric facilities in my constituency?
§ Dr. Owen
The replacement of geriatric beds and the expansion of facilities, particularly acute rehabilitation services for geriatrics, stand very high in our assessment of priorities. I readily agree with my hon. Friend in that. Priorities within the region are primarily for the West Midlands Regional Authority itself.
§ Dr. Vaughan
One of the major causes of the long delays in admission to hospital is the large number of empty hospital beds. On any one day there are 75,000 beds empty. Further, there are more than 11,000 beds empty due to shortages of staff. If the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend were to pay a little more attention to staffing problems rather than attacking private practice and pay beds, we might reduce the waiting lists.
§ Dr. Owen
The reasons for waiting lists are very complex, as the hon. Gentleman is probably the first in the House to know. Staffing is one of the factors. The most important factor of all was shortage of nursing staff. The pay of nurses was in a most disgraceful situation when we came into office. As a result of a very substantial award, following the Halsbury Report, of over £180 million, I think there are some signs that nursing recruitment is improving and that we will be able to staff more of our wards then we have done hitherto. This will make a contribution to reducing the waiting lists.