HC Deb 18 June 1985 vol 81 cc154-6
4. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many patients were treated in National Health Service hospitals in the most recent year for which figures are available; and how this compares with the figure for 1978–79.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

In 1983, NHS hospitals in England treated some 6 million inpatient cases, 800,000 day cases and 8.5 million new outpatients. That is 650,000 more inpatient cases, 250,000 more day cases and 600,000 more outpatients than in 1978. Early indications are that hospital activity continued to increase in 1984.

Mr. Knox

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that those figures show a remarkable increase in the number of patients treated under the National Health Service since the Government took office? What steps is he taking to ensure that the public know about that great improvement in the NHS?

Mr. Clarke

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for asking a question about the number of patients treated. The critics in the Opposition tend to concentrate on the number of beds, the number of staff employed and other inadequate measures. Like my hon. Friend. I am more concerned about the number of patients being treated than about the quantity of furniture in hospitals.

Mrs. Clwyd

Will the Minister explain why the outpatients' waiting lists in Mid-Glamorgan almost doubled between 1978 and 1984?

Mr. Clarke

I do not answer for Mid-Glamorgan, which is a matter for the Welsh Office. However, we are taking steps to obtain more accurate information about waiting lists, which can be an extremely uncertain measure of demand, depending on the way in which the records in different places are kept.

The important factor is that when we know the length of waiting times and waiting lists for a particular specialty in a particular place, that information should then be used by the health authorities to identify the causes and to take steps by reallocating priorities or altering clinical practices to try to reduce the waiting lists.

Mrs. Currie

Do not my right hon. and learned Friend's figures show that the NHS is not merely safe with us but is thriving and, indeed, doing far better than it ever did under the Opposition when they were in government?

On the question of waiting lists, is my right hon. and learned Friend satisfied that, with the changes in management, health authorities are using their resources more effectively and also to combat waiting lists in specialties?

Mr. Clarke

I agree with my hon. Friend that the very welcome increase in the number of patients being treated is the result of more money being spent on the NHS and better management and use of resources. I do not believe that the Opposition could rival that, given their pledge to restore the old bureaucracy and end the search for cost-effectiveness in the support services. Their spokesman seems more anxious to assure the trade unions that all will go back to the previous arrangements than to concentrate on what is needed to improve the NHS.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Why does the Minister continue to cling to the notion that the number of patients treated is an indicator of the health of the nation? For example, the clinicians in my area are pleased that the number of people dialysed for renal defects is declining because of the number of transplants. It is by no means an indicator of the improving health of the nation.

Mr. Clarke

There are other health indicators and we must keep an eye on them. Although we treat more patients, new demands arise as doctors make more advances. The number of new renal patients has doubled during our period of office. As the hon. Gentleman rightly says, the number of kidney transplants is now higher than ever before and much higher than anywhere else in western Europe. Although that does not mean that we have satisfied all the demands, it does mean that the NHS is in a very much better state than it has ever been before.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm, or deny, that the second surrogacy baby has been born in a NHS hospital, and will he ensure, when considering NHS patients coming forward in the next few months, that neither of the next two surrogacy arrangement children will be allowed to be born in such hospitals when money is being paid on a commercial basis and advantage is being taken of the free NHS service?

Mr. Clarke

I appreciate my hon. Friends strong feelings on the subject, but I urge him to consider the consequences of his suggestion. When an expectant mother presents herself for antenatal care and help with the delivery, it is the duty of the hospital to provide that necessary care and not to refuse it because of the background circumstances. On the other hand, I agree with him in deploring the commercial element in both the births that have taken place so far, and I hope that the measures that are at present in another place will bring that to an end.

Mr. Dobson

Before the Minister covers himself entirely in a halo of glory because of the hard work of those employed in the National Health Service, will he appreciate that if more people are visiting their GPs and more are receiving outpatient and inpatient treatment, that means that more people are sick? Will he ask what is causing that?

Mr. Clarke

I accept from the hon. Gentleman that we should pay tribute to the staff of the NHS in achieving these improvements. The figures are a tribute not only to the doctors and nurses but to all who work in the service. The second part of his supplementary question is idiotic and ridiculous if his only answer to the figures showing increased numbers being treated under the NHS is to claim that more people are becoming ill. He will have to do better than that.

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