HC Deb 01 July 1986 vol 100 cc811-3
9. Mr. Favell

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on the reasons for variations of waiting lists between regional health authorities.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Ray Whitney)

There is no simple answer to my hon. Friend's question. Variations in waiting lists can be caused by a multiplicity of factors relating to the efficiency with which resources are used and to the resources available in a particular place.

Mr. Favell

In regions where health authorities have failed to get their act together to reduce waiting lists, should not health authorities be forced to contract out medical services? Is my hon. Friend aware that in Wales two private kidney dialysis units have been introduced to help the Health Service and that in the past 12 months the number of kidney patients has increased from 30 per million per head of population to 55 per million, and lives are already being saved?

Mr. Whitney

My hon. Friend has made an important point. Ministers have made it clear that a reduction in waiting lists is an urgent priority for the NHS and the health authorities.

Mr. O'Brien

Will the Minister look into the problems experienced in my constituency? Due to the closure of hospitals that accommodate geriatric patients, those patients have had to be transferred to general hospitals. As a result, the number of beds available for general medical care in those hospitals has been reduced, which has created problems in the Yorkshire region. Will the Minister look into the closure of hospitals in which geriatric patients predominate?

Mr. Whitney

The diversion of resources must be a matter for the decision of local health authorities in the light of needs. The closure of beds has been the policy of Governments of both parties for some years. However, I am glad to say that under this Government the number of patients treated has increased remarkably.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

Is my hon. Friend aware of the considerable improvement in the facilities and nursing beds available at Grantham hospital, and will he welcome that fact? Is he further aware that there is a feeling among medical staff that, because of the shortage of medical staff and under-provision, those facilities are not being fully used? Will he inquire into those complaints to see whether there is any justice in them?

Mr. Whitney

I am glad to hear about the situation in Grantham, and I will certainly look into that latter point.

Mr. Corbett

Is the Minister aware that in the West Midlands regional health authority area, and in Birmingham in particular, people have to wait for up to seven years to get on the waiting list for ear, nose and throat treatment? Moreover, a consultant at the Queen Elizabeth hospital has written to kidney patients virtually telling them that unless they are at death's door, they will not get an operation. What will the Minister do about that?

Mr. Whitney

As I said, we have made it clear that the improvement of waiting times has very high priority. That is why resources are being steadily increased. As the hon. Gentleman may know, a pilot project has been funded in the west midlands to examine the effect of referral practice by providing general practitioners with additional information about waiting times in other districts.

Mrs. Currie

Is my hon. Friend aware that in the Southern Derbyshire health authority waiting lists are generally low, which contrasts greatly with waiting lists of over 1,000 gynaecology patients, some of whom have been waiting more than four years? I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that that is totally unacceptable. Is it not time to take another look at the report of the Social Services Committee on medical education, which recommended the appointment of far more consultants? That might attract them back into the hospital service, where the problems now lie.

Mr. Whitney

I welcome the low waiting list in south Derbyshire. The appointment of consultants is a matter for the judgment of the health authorities, and it is not subject to any control exercised from the centre.

Mrs. Clwyd

Does the Minister believe that patients themselves should be forced to shop around to find the shortest waiting list? Is he aware that one of my constituents, who needed a hip replacement operation, was told that he would have to wait several years? However, he rang about six area health authorities in England and eventually had his operation at Guy's hospital, London. Is that the sort of Health Service that the Minister believes in? Does he not think that a health authority should help patients to transfer to areas that have shorter waiting lists, so that people are not forced to wait an inordinately long time for operations?

Mr. Whitney

As I have already made clear twice, we are determined to bring down waiting times. I am also glad to note that waiting lists have been significantly reduced during the period that this Government have been in office. I remind the House that in March 1979 waiting lists stood at 752,000 and that at 30 September 1985 waiting lists had been reduced to 661,000. That is the latest recorded figure.

Mr. Squire

I welcome both the reduction in waiting lists and the much greater efficiency which they has often demonstrated is now abroad within the Health Service. However, does he agree that waiting times of nine months — and years in some cases—are simply unacceptable to people who often are in great pain?

Mr. Whitney

Yes, Sir, but I remind my hon. Friend that entry for hospital operations is virtually immediate in 50 per cent. of cases.

Sir John Farr

As waiting lists can be a matter of life or death, is there not a strong case for linking all the different waiting lists by national computer? Will my hon. Friend look into this question and see what can be done?

Mr. Whitney

We have financed a project in the west midlands to examine this possibility. We are awaiting the outcome of that examination.

Dr. Marek

Despite the completely misleading figures that the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends rabbit on about at every available opportunity, the public know that the National Health Service is having cuts imposed upon it by this Government and that waiting lists are unacceptably high. Is not the truth of the matter that the regional health authorities do not know where to turn to continue to provide a proper service? Is it not also true that in the last four to five years we have been suffering from an unacceptably high plateau of waiting lists? Exactly how does the Minister propose to bring them down?

Mr. Whitney

If there are any misleading figures, they come from the Opposition Benches. I have already reminded the House that waiting lists have been reduced under this Government. If the hon. Gentleman would like further accurate figures, I remind him that in 1984 the National Health Service treated over 800,000 more inpatient cases than it treated in 1978, over one third of a million more day cases and over 3 million more our-patient cases.

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