HC Deb 19 June 1991 vol 193 cc283-4
7. Mr. Home Robertson

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many people are on health service waiting lists in Scotland.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

The latest figures show that there were 59,520 people on the in-patient waiting lists. That is more than 17,000 fewer than the number that we inherited from the last Labour Government.

Mr. Home Robertson

After the drastic reduction in the number of hospital wards in my constituency of East Lothian, we now find that the disgraceful waiting lists for hospitals in Edinburgh are being further aggravated by waiting lists for ambulances to take patients from my constituency to and from those hospitals. As to the waiting list arrangements for the proposed private hospital in Haddington for the continuing care of elderly patients, can the Minister give any guarantee that beds will be available for elderly NHS patients who need care in that unit, whenever it is introduced?

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Gentleman should raise this matter directly with Lothian health board, which is responsible for the provision of care. In common with other health boards, Lothian is being set targets for its waiting lists. I pay tribute to the way in which it is being innovative and enterprising in trying to ensure that the considerably increased resources available to it produce the best possible quality of patient care. The hon. Gentleman should take account of the fact that Lothian health board is treating far more patients than at any time in its history.

Sir Hector Monro

Many people are extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for the initiative that he has taken to reduce waiting lists through special resources for health boards. The increase in overall resources available to health boards by an average of 10 per cent. this year, which means many millions of pounds for each board, must go a long way towards improving patient care. Is not that good news for Scotland, in contrast with the moaning and groaning that we hear from the Opposition?

Mr. Forsyth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Our waiting list initiative has resulted in an extra 100,000 patients being treated. I was surprised that the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) repudiated special initiatives of this kind as wasteful and short term. I was even more surprised when I read the Labour party's policy document on health to find exactly such an initiative promised as one that the Labour party would have put forward, had it found itself in government.

Mr. Galbraith

The Minister will be aware that the only reason why the waiting list figures are apparently less than they were in 1979 is because the method of calculating them has changed—an old Tory trick. Is it not the case that in the past year in-patient waiting lists have increased by 2.3 per cent. in Scotland? Why is it that the biggest increase in in-patient waiting lists is in Forth Valley health board, which covers the Minister's constituency and is run by a Tory party member? In the other two health hoards run by Tory party members—Ayrshire and Arran, and Grampian—the increases in the waiting lists are also above the national average. Is not that an example of Tory party efficiency in action, and does not it show that Tory party chairmen of health boards are bad for health?

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Gentleman would do himself a service if he were not so selective in his use of statistics. He is right to say that in-patient waiting lists have increased by just over 2 per cent., but he did not mention the fall in day-patient waiting lists over the same period. Since 1987, when the waiting list initiative began, they have fallen by 13 per cent. If the hon. Gentleman really thinks that waiting lists are down because we have changed the basis on which the figures are calculated, when 900,000 extra patients are being treated this year, an extra 100,000 as a result of the waiting list initiatives, he is living in a dreamland and he does a great disservice to the consultants and doctors in the health boards concerned, some of whom have given up their weekends to get waiting times down.