HC Deb 16 April 1991 vol 189 cc155-6
11. Mr. Wray

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many wards closed in England each week since 1 February.

Mr. Waldegrave

We do not routinely collect this information centrally, since ward and bed numbers are not a good indicator of levels of service in the national health service. However, the hon. Member will be glad to know that since 1979 there has been a 25 per cent. increase in the number of patients treated by the national health service.

Mr. Wray

Will the Minister explain why there are 50,000 people on the waiting list in Wales and 800,000 in other parts of England? Will he also explain under what legislation, since the Tory National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990, Medway health authority is trying to enter into a package deal with a centre hopitalière in France? Does the Minister agree with that package deal?

Mr. Waldegrave

I am not sure that waiting lists are the strongest line for the hon. Gentleman to pursue, as the numbers on those lists increased by 48 per cent. under Labour, whereas they have declined under the Conservatives. The Medway deal that the hon. Gentleman mentioned has been discussed in the House. If it is within the law—we shall have to check whether it is within the vires of the local health authority—and it is in the best interests of patients, I shall have no reason to interfere with it.

Mr. Rowe

How many wards have been closed as a result of the introduction of non-invasive surgical techniques, day-care operations and the decanting of large numbers of patients into much more satisfactory care in the community? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is in the spirit of the European Community that if Medway health authority can secure a better deal for its patients by using European facilities, it is all to its credit that it should do so?

Mr. Waldegrave

On the latter point, I agree with my hon. Friend, subject to the point that I made earlier. My hon. Friend is perfectly right that in the past 10 years there has been an enormous increase in day surgery, as knowledge of its proper use has increased. In most other advanced countries, such as France and Germany, there has been a similar increase in the number of patients treated, alongside a drop in the total number of beds.

Mr. Battle

Is the Minister aware that in Bradford and Leeds some wards and beds are still being held for Gulf crisis casualties? What extra steps will his Department take to ensure that clearance of the backlog of operations resulting from the Gulf crisis is speeded up?

Mr. Waldegrave

I am astonished at what the hon. Gentleman says. It certainly should not be so and I shall have the position investigated urgently. The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that in practice the Gulf crisis had almost no impact—indeed, no impact at all—on the national health service. That being the case, there should be no excuses of the kind that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. As I said, I shall have the matter looked into.

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