HC Deb 16 July 1991 vol 195 cc214-5
10. Mr. Tim Smith

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many people had been waiting for an operation (a) for more than one year and (b) for more than two years on 30 April; and what were the comparable figures a year before.

Mr. Waldegrave

Information on numbers waiting for operations is not available for April 1991, but provisional figures for all specialties show a fall of 20 per cent. in the number waiting more than one year since March 1990. The number waiting more than two years reduced by 39 per cent.

Mr. Smith

Is not that an outstandingly successful achievement in the course of one year? Does my right hon. Friend agree that it has less to do with the quantity of health service resources and more to do with the quality of management? How does that successful record compare with the achievement of the last Labour Government?

Mr. Waldegrave

I agree with my hon. Friend that the health service is getting better at avoiding long waiting lists and that it is treating more people more quickly. The last Labour Government, like all previous Labour Governments, left waiting lists higher than they found them.

Mr. Galbraith

Is not the Minister aware that the number of patients currently awaiting treatment is at 906,406, higher than in 1979, when the figure was 752,400? Is he aware that the percentage waiting more than one year remains almost unchanged at 25 per cent.? Does the Secretary of State agree with Sir Terence English, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, who commented today on waiting lists: The overall provision of resources and manpower are currently insufficient … to provide patients with the benefits of modern surgery"? Is not the real problem that identified by Sir Terence English—underfunding?

Mr. Waldegrave

I am a little disappointed with the hon. Gentleman, who should know better. He knows that he arrived at his first figure by not comparing like with like. In-patient figures have fallen. The hon. Gentleman was badly briefed on his second point. We have 40,000 fewer long-wait patients than did Labour, which is a drop of about 25 per cent.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman gives me an opportunity to refer to our co-operative work with the Royal College of Surgeons, announced today, in respect of waiting list management. We welcome the college's contribution, which fits very closely with the guidelines that we issued.