HC Deb 07 March 1978 vol 945 cc1210-2
11. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many patients were awaiting admission into National Health Service hospitals at the latest date for which figures are available.

Mr. Ennals

The revised provisional figure for patients awaiting admission into NHS hospitals at 30th September 1977 was 594,000.

Mr. Knox

Does the Secretary of State agree that the figure is very high? Does he realise that in Staffordshire the size of the waiting list increased by 20 per cent. between September 1976 and September 1977? What practical steps is he taking to deal with this very alarming situation?

Mr. Ennals

I agree that the figure is too high. I have to say, with sadness, that it has always been too high. The total number of people awaiting admission to hospital has fluctuated around 500,000 since the inception of the National Health Service.

As I said in reply to an earlier question, we reached a peak of 607,000 at the end of 1976. Fortunately, the figures are now lower than that. But I have made a number of suggestions for dealing with this problem, drawn from the experience of health authorities. They include the centralisation and streamlining of admission procedures, greater flexibility in the use of hospital beds, the use of day surgery, five-day wards for minor operations, added facilities for investigation, and other methods.

Mr. Hoyle

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that one factor in reducing waiting lists would be to take over all the private beds in the National Health Service, especially as many of those who get the privilege of using them do not even pay for them at the end of the day?

Mr. Ennals

We are already making good progress in fulfilling the terms of the National Health Service Act in that we are steadily phasing out pay beds from the National Health Service and shall be moving forward towards common waiting lists in the National Health Service.

Mr. Bowden

Will the Secretary of State consider giving special priority to the elderly when they are on lists for routine operations? Obviously, a routine operation at the age of 30 or 40 is very different from one at the age of 70 or 80.

Mr. Ennals

It is for the hospital consultants to decide what priority should be given to what patients. But in terms of particular types of operation—I am thinking of joint replacements, which are particularly for the elderly—they have a high priority.

Mrs. Castle

Do not these high figures show the urgent need to establish common waiting lists, which would prevent private patients jumping the queue? Can my right hon. Friend say when he proposes to take action on the excellent report on common waiting lists produced some time ago by the Health Services Board?

Mr. Ennals

I have received the report of the Health Services Board, and I am now consulting about the best ways in which it can be implemented.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Does the right hon. Gentleman think that misleading the House about the extra money which was supposed to have been put into the reducing of waiting lists helps the problem in any way? Why, on 22nd November, did he talk about an increase of £9.5 million when there was nothing of the sort? There was no extra money at all. Does he think that helps?

Mr. Ennals

The right hon. Gentleman knows that I neither misled the House nor sought to mislead it. I made it clear that there was roughly £8.5 million which had been identified by the health authorities as being directly attributed to easing the problem of waiting lists. I made no suggestion that there were new resources.