HC Deb 30 June 1986 vol 100 cc681-3
1. Mrs. Clwyd

asked the Secretary of State for Wales what action he intends to take to seek to reduce hospital waiting lists in (a) Mid Glamorgan and (b) other area health authorities in Wales.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Mark Robinson)

In support of the responsibility which all district health authorities, including Mid Glamorgan, have for managing their hospital waiting lists, a workshop was held on 9 April to identify problems, analyse the reasons for them and to provide solutions. Another will be held in the autumn to review progress achieved.

In addition, the announcement of the establishment of a Welsh Office catalyst team was made at the April workshop with the aim of helping authorities to target the main problems identified and to indicate appropriate measures that can be taken to reduce waiting times. Preliminary results of this work have already highlighted certain immediate steps which could be taken in individual authorities to reduce waiting lists. Although the cost of this can be substantially met by district health authorities within existing resources, I am prepared to support measures, with special financial provision, that will help make an early start on the specific problems identified. Health authorities, including Mid Glamorgan, will now be notified of this initiative, which I am taking this opportunity to announce.

Mrs. Clwyd

We must welcome any new initiative from the Welsh Office, particularly if it means giving extra funds to the hard-pressed health authorities, and I hope that the Minister will spell that out in some detail. The problems of social deprivation, high unemployment and all the other factors that make Mid Glamorgan a special case have been spelt out to the Welsh Office time after time. The high levels of people waiting for in-patient and out-patient hospital treatment are completely unacceptable. I press the Minister again to make substantial resources available to Mid Glamorgan to meet its special needs.

Mr. Robinson

It is precisely because of our concern about waiting lists that I have today announced this initiative. It is an initiative for the current year and its purpose is to speed measures which we believe have been identified and can be taken by district health authorities, and I am glad that the hon. Lady welcomes that fact.

Mr. Gwilym Jones

I particularly welcome my hon. Friend's initiative for pursuing the waiting lists in Wales, but may I press him a little further on the analysis of the existing position? How much of the increase in the waiting lists is due to what I would call new demand for treatments which were either not available before 1979 or certainly not as widely as now and of which we should be proud?

Mr. Robinson

My hon. Friend is right. There are a variety of reasons for the growing waiting lists, which is a rate of growth that we inherited. There have been 450,000 more patient attendances than in 1979, looked after by an 18 per cent. increase in front-line staff, including 4,000 more nurses.

Mr. Geraint Howells

Can the Minister explain to the people of Wales why there is a need for waiting lists at all in 1986?

Mr. Robinson

The key thing that we must concentrate on is not so much the waiting list as waiting time—the length of time that people have to wait when they enter hospital for acute and routine surgery. People have to wait because there is considerable pressure of demand on our health services, which will always be there. The pressure comes from the fact that there is a growing public expectation of what the Health Service can provide, and that is very clear.

Mr. Rowlands

What does the Minister say about the system by which a patient goes to see a consultant and is told that he or she has to wait for 18 months before an operation can take place, and the same consultant then offers to do the same operation for £1,000 a mere 20 miles down the road? Will the workshop system and the review that the Minister is to undertake cover that sort of thing, so that we have full-time consultants working in a full-time Health Service?

Mr. Robinson

Clear guidelines are laid down for private practice and it is not possible to queue jump by, first, seeking an early consultation, and then queue jumping for provision through the National Health Service.

Mr. Barry Jones

The Government have been too complacent for too long. How speedily will the Minister move to assist the cancer patients of north-east Wales, who must travel to England for treatment, and who experience long waiting times for initial treatment? The journey to Clatterbridge hospital in the Wirral is difficult and lengthy at certain times of the year. Have not waiting lists risen by more than 8 per cent. throughout Wales during the past year? Does the hon. Gentleman know that almost 130,000 Welsh people await treatment of some kind, and that in many areas of the Welsh Health Service more people wait for treatment each year than receive it? The Minister has dawdled long enough. He must bring forward measures for new money speedily.

Mr. Robinson

I thought that I had just announced new measures for more money and a special initiative. Between 1974 and 1979 the rate of increase was 7 per cent. Today it is still 7 per cent. Similarly, the figure for out-patients was then 55 per cent. while today it is 53 per cent. The story is not quite as bleak as the hon. Gentleman would like us to believe.

The hon. Gentleman raised the important issue of cancer services in north Wales. As he knows, we have conducted our own inquiry, which has resulted in a consultation paper, which was recently issued. We now expect responses to that.

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