HC Deb 16 July 1979 vol 970 cc1000-1
3. Mr. Jessel

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what could be the cost saving to the National Health Service in Wales if the wearing of seat belts were made compulsory.

The Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Michael Roberts)

Separate Welsh data are not available, but on the basis of 1975 data for Great Britain a broad assessment has been made that if all drivers and front seat passengers wore seat belts the saving to the NHS in Wales might be of the order of £350,000 a year at November 1978 prices.

Mr. Jessel

If enactment of the Road Traffic (Seat Belts) Bill led to a wearing rate of about 90 per cent., as in Australia, which is close to the 100 per cent. figure assumed by my hon. Friend, can he estimate the number of lives that would be saved, the number of serious injuries that would be prevented annually, and the effect on hospital waiting lists in Wales?

Mr. Michael Roberts

If 85 per cent. of drivers and front seat passengers wore seat belts, the data suggest that in Wales about 40 lives a year might be saved and 400 serious injuries avoided. This would have a relatively small effect on the very long waiting lists for specialities previously affected by road accidents.

Mr. Deakins

Is it not the case that, if the number of accident victims in NHS hospitals were reduced, there would be more scope for treating people from the ordinary waiting lists, more beds and resources would be available and, therefore, by definition, those waiting lists would be shorter?

Mr. Michael Roberts

There can be no question but that the waiting lists would be shorter. If one takes the estimated 400 serious injuries that would be avoided and sets those against the general surgery waiting list of 10,200, one gets some idea of how much difference there would be.

Sir Raymond Gower

In assessing these figures, is account taken of the fact that some drivers, fortified by wearing a seat belt, drive differently—perhaps at greater speed? Is any assessment made of cases such as those that have aroused the comment of one or two coroners in the Cardiff and Newport areas, where there has been some evidence of serious accidents as a consequence of wearing seat belts and where there might not have been loss of life had there been no seat belt?

Mr. Michael Roberts

I do not think that any such calculation has been made. The efficacy of seat belts in reducing death or serious injury to drivers and front seat passengers is considered about 50 per cent.—that is, that half the fatalities not wearing belts might have survived with serious injuries and half the seriously injured might have been only slightly injured.

Mr. Alan Williams

In view of the agonies through which the NHS will go to meet the financial limitations imposed on it by the Government, how on earth can the Government ignore the savings that are available to them through this measure?

Mr. Michael Roberts

I have illustrated the effect on shortening the lists in the hospitals, and one can gauge the savings. This is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport. Of course, the Government advise passengers and drivers to wear seat belts.