HC Deb 26 October 1976 vol 918 cc252-4
3. Mr. Boscawen

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he expects to make an announcement on the allocation of NHS resources.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. David Ennals)

I am aiming to give regional health authorities their allocations for 1977–78 at around the new year after considering the views of the authorities and other interested bodies on the recent report of the Resource Allocation Working Party.

Mr. Boscawen

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that in the allocation of existing resources urgent attention should be paid to the over-lengthy waiting lists for non-acute surgery in any area? Has he read the latest report of the West Somerset Community Health Council, which states that if any area had a worse waiting list situation it was a bleak outlook for people in this country"? What is the right hon. Gentleman going to do about it?

Mr. Ennals

The problem of waiting lists is one that concerns me very much. It concerned my predecessor and every Minister responsible over the past 25 years. It is a serious problem. There have always been waiting lists which are too long. My predecessor, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), introduced additional funds to assist where funds were the answer in alleviating the problem. In some cases waiting lists have become somewhat longer in the past few months, especially where industrial action was taken by consultants and, in some cases, by junior hospital doctors. I hope that we shall be improving the situation. It is an issue that I am examining carefully.

Mr. Spriggs

Will my right hon. Friend investigate the dangerously low level of nursing allocation in the parliamentary constituency of St. Helens before he decides upon the allocation of resources, in view of the report I have received in the past few days in which members of the trade unions and the area health authority report on the dangerously low level of nursing allocation?

Mr. Ennals

The report of the Resource Allocation Working Party showed that the North-West, Trent, the Northern Region, Yorkshire and Wessex were among the regions which needed to have a higher share of national resources than they had had hitherto. The report showed that the four Thames regions and Oxford already had more than their fair share of revenue resources. St. Helens is affected by that situation. I shall have to take a decision at the end of the year on whether to accept in full the recommendations that are brought forward. In many areas there are some uncertainties for nurses. Up to now they have always assumed that they would be able to take up appointments in the hospital in which they had been trained, but that is not now possible because the wastage rate of nurses is much less. In some cases, nurses have to be prepared to be a little more mobile than hitherto.

Mrs. Knight

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that retiring consultants such as dermatologists are not being replaced, that sufficient nurses are not being employed although they are available, and that vital equipment is not being purchased? Is he not presiding over the slow death of the National Health Service? Where does he plan to find other sources of revenue apart from the Exchequer?

Mr. Ennals

Since the Government came to power there has been substantial expenditure on the NHS. It has increased from less than 4 per cent, of our gross domestic product to nearly 6 per cent, in only two years. Even now, in a period of considerable economic stress, there is still an element of growth within the service.

I cannot confirm the hon. Lady's point about consultants. As for nurses, I can assure her that, whatever she may feel, there is a steady increase even now in the number of nurses employed by the NHS. Of course, there will never be enough money to meet all the demands for equipment. We shall never be able to meet what everyone wants in terms of new equipment. The hon. Lady will always be able to bring me examples of where it has not been possible to make an immediate purchase.