HC Deb 23 March 1988 vol 130 cc341-3
2. Mr. Galbraith

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland on what date he collected information concerning the number of operations postponed on 24 February.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Malcolm Rifkind)

On 25 and 26 February my Department collected health boards' preliminary estimates of operations postponed because of industrial action on 24 February. On 1 and 2 March the Department collected a detailed breakdown of the figures so that my hon. Friend could reply to the hon. Gentleman's written question for 3 March.

Mr. Galbraith

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I am also grateful for the fact that he has taken the responsibility for it and not passed it down to one of his junior Ministers. I am impressed by his ability to collect these figures and by the fact that he has made them public so rapidly. Why will he not do the same for the figures for leukaemia? Why is he keeping those figures from the research workers at the University of Newcastle, who are looking into the geographic distribution of leukaemia in Scotland? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman involved in yet another cover-up?

Mr. Rifkind

There is no cover-up and the hon. Gentleman, as usual, has his facts wrong. He might be interested to know that the latest figures for operations cancelled because of industrial action, which is what his question relates to—[Interruption.] No, his question is about the number of operations postponed on 24 February, which was the day of industrial action —[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must be able to hear the answer.

Mr. Rifkind

I appreciate that the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) does not want an answer to the question that is on the Order Paper, but what is of primary concern at present is that 2,600 operations have been cancelled in Scotland because of industrial action. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about operations in Scotland he might use his substantial influence in the National Health Service to persuade those taking industrial action to put the interests of their patients first.

Mr. Allan Stewart

With regard to the action on 24 February, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that if Labour Members were concerned about resources in the Health Service they would support competitive tendering, which has saved £100 million for the Health Service in England and Wales, rather than acting like a bunch of tape recorders for COHSE and NUPE?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend, in his usual eloquent fashion, has made a pungent point. Labour Members who say that they are concerned about the welfare of patients might like to reflect on the fact that, because of the industrial action that they supported, more than 80,000 meals to patients have been affected, to the detriment of those patients, and more than 40,000 disposable sheets have had to be used. If that is what Opposition Members regard as being action that should be supported, it shows that their real concern is certainly not for the welfare of patients.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

Will the Secretary of State explain why it appears to be straightforward to collect statistics for one specific day, but impossible for the Government to collect centrally the misery league of people who are waiting for straightforward operations? Is he aware that on many occasions his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has said that the Government do not collect centrally figures for cataract operations or joint replacement operations, but such operations are a measure of the effectiveness of the Health Service in Scotland. When can we have those statistics and when will we reduce the waiting lists?

Mr. Rifkind

A major initiative is under way to try to improve the information that is available to us and the general public with regard to the performance of the Health Service. It is in everyone's interest that as much information as possible is available so that we can judge the way in which these massive amounts of resources are used and identify ways in which they can be used more effectively.

Mr. Bill Walker

When my right hon. and learned Friend is working out the statistics on operations cancelled, will he bear in mind that the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross) and I are here in the House largely due to the success of operations carried out at Nine Wells hospital and that the privileges that we enjoyed have been denied to others in the narrow interests of trade unions?

Mr. Rifkind

My hon. Friend is correct. I pay tribute to the Royal College of Nursing, which, despite any concern that it may have about the situation in the National Health Service, has always made it clear that those who have a real professional interest in the Health Service would never use patients as a means of bringing pressure to bear in a controversy of this kind.

Mr. Norman Hogg

Is the Secretary of State aware that the number of staffed beds in Scotland has fallen by more than 5 per cent. since 1979? What has been the effect of that on waiting lists? Is he further aware that in the next financial year funding of the NHS in real terms will fall by 1.2 per cent.? What effect will that have on waiting lists? Is not all this covering fire in relation to the day of action on 24 February intended to cover up the scandalous situation created by his policies?

Mr. Rifkind

On the contrary. First, I emphasise that more patients have been treated in Scotland in recent years than was possible in the past. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about waiting lists, he will be interested to know that the additional resources announced by the Government some months ago have been used to reduce waiting lists in Scotland. The main effect of the industrial action that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends support will be to lengthen waiting lists. The hon. Gentleman should identify his priorities and support Government policies directed towards those ends.