HC Deb 15 November 1983 vol 48 cc715-7
13. Mr. Kilroy-Silk

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many new hospital beds are currently unused.

Mr. John Patten

The information requested is not collected routinely but a special inquiry in March 1982 identified 934 beds awaiting opening at seven hospitals through lack of funds. The latest available information, in April 1983, shows that the number of unopened beds has been reduced to 791 at six of those hospitals.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Is it not a disgrace that so many beds in new wards remain unused when hundreds of thousands of patients are waiting in distress and dying in agony on the waiting list? Would it not be more sensible to take action to match those new beds with the unemployed nurses and doctors to reduce the waiting list and the waiting time rather than increasing them by imposing further cuts on the Health Service as the Government propose?

Mr. Patten

Some of the problems result from bad decisions on capital and revenue planning. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was determined to put that right so that those problems would no longer arise. The hon. Gentleman should consider the triumphant way in which the NHS in recent years has increased its productivity by treating 500,000 more patients per year in roughly the same number of beds. The waiting lists would be much shorter if there had not been industrial action in 1982.

Mr. Janner

Does the Minister accept that there was nothing wrong with the planning of the Glenfield district hospital in my constituency, but that everything wrong with the Government's policy, which is preventing that hospital from opening and resulting in a great deal of expenditure on mothballing? When will that hospital open? How long must my constituents wait for the hospital beds they so desperately need?

Mr. Patten

That is a matter for the regional health authority, but waiting lists throughout the country are becoming shorter and it will not be long before they return to the level before last year's industrial action.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Minister aware that thousands of middle-aged and elderly people with detached retinas are waiting to use those hospital beds? Why will he not allow them to do so?

Mr. Patten

The disposition of resources for the treatment of individual specialties such as the optical matters to which the hon. Gentleman refers are matters for the regional health authorities and their constituent district health authorities.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Is the Minister aware that in some district general hospitals, including those in Leeds, different wards are closed from week to week, thus obscuring the real number of unused beds? Will he draw attention to that in his next statement?

Mr. Patten

The hon. Gentleman should consider more closely the performance indicators that we are developing to examine those problems. Some ward closures represent sensible planning by the hospital authorities in the interests of conserving resources and increasing the throughput of patients in the very beds that we wish to see used to best effect.

Mr. Loyden

How can the Minister say that the closing of hospitals and reductions in the number of beds have no effect when a constituent of mine in her seventies has to wait more than two years for orthopaedic surgery? Is that how safe the Health Service is in the hands of the Government?

Mr. Patten

We are treating more patients this year than ever before—[HON. MEMBERS: "You make more people sick."] I cannot answer the specific point raised by the hon. Gentleman as I do not know the circumstances of his constituent or the clinical judgment of the consultant involved, but we are treating more, not fewer, patients.