HC Deb 29 July 1980 vol 989 cc1272-4
7. Mr. Sims

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many acute surgical beds there are in the National Health Service and how many there are in the private sector.

The Minister for Health (Dr. Gerard Vaughan)

During 1978 the average daily number of surgical beds available in NHS hospitals in England was just over 79,000. There are about 5,500 acute surgical and medical beds in the private sector, the majority of which are used for surgery.

Mr. Sims

Do not those figures show that private medicine has a valuable part to play in the nation's health? To what extent may some beds in the acute surgical private sector be used for the contracting out arrangements to which he referred earlier, which will obviously benefit NHS patients?

Dr. Vaughan

We believe that a greater use of private contractors will improve the care of patients and help to reduce waiting lists. Under the Labour Government, waiting lists increased every year, but under this Government they are already falling. We are determined to continue reducing the waiting lists, if necessary by the use of private contractors.

Mr. James A. Dunn

How many of the acute beds in the National Health Service are available in Merseyside, and how many will be supplied in the private sector? To my recollection, there is not a great private sector in Merseyside.

Dr. Vaughan

The hon. Gentleman is aware that there are many ways of reducing waiting lists, not simply by the use of private contractors. In December 1974, there were only 517,000 people on the waiting lists, compared with 752,000 in March 1979. That was an increase of 235,000, or 45 per cent., under the previous Government.

Mr. Heddle

Does not my hon. Friend agree that in some parts of the country the demand for acute surgical beds in the National Health Service is less than in others? Therefore, will my hon. Friend consider setting up a pilot scheme to see whether a computer bed bank could be established in the Department of Health to link a vacancy for a surgical bed in one part of the country with a patient waiting for surgery in another part of the country?

Dr. Vaughan

That is an important and interesting suggestion. There is already some exchange of beds between one part of the country and another. We shall certainly consider the suggestion further.

Mr. Moyle

When will the Minister admit that all his continual statements about putting National Health Service work out to private contractors, when health authorities think that there is no cost-effective future for it; putting private units into National Health Service hospitals, where they may be subject to staff dissatisfaction; private contractors handling 25 per cent. of health care when no one is putting up the £2,000 million to cover the scheme; are dogmatic and useless, and will merely damage morale in the National Health Service?

Dr. Vaughan

The right hon. Gentleman knows that moral in the National Health Service has never fallen faster than it fell in the years of the previous Administration. We are deeply concerned to improve the Health Service, and I believe that we are succeeding.

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