§ 3. Mr. Denham
To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many hospital trusts have entered into contractual agreements with health purchasers which set different maximum waiting times for the same clinical procedures. 
§ The Minister for Health (Mr. Gerald Malone)
Under the new patients charter, we have recently introduced a new, 18-month guaranteed maximum wait for in-patient and day case treatment and a first ever standard for wait to first out-patient consultation; all patients should be seen within 26 weeks of being referred by their general practitioner with nine out of 10 being seen within 13 weeks. These are, of course, maximum waiting times and we encourage purchasers to agree contracts which improve on these times for their patients when possible.
§ Mr. Denham
What does the Minister have to say to my constituents in Southampton who in the past year have had to wait twice as long for cardiac operations at Southampton general hospital as patients from Bournemouth who use the same hospital for the same treatment with the same surgeon? Indeed, what does the Minister have to say to his own constituents who had to wait three times as long as patients from Bournemouth for treatment in Southampton general hospital? Is it not the case that the internal market is forcing hospitals to enter into contracts in which where people live is more important than how ill they are in respect of how fast they are treated?
§ Mr. Malone
I remind the hon. Gentleman that tougher targets of that sort apply only to non-urgent cases. All treatment is provided within the terms of the 1991 agreement between the Government and clinicians, which clearly indicates that no trust should offer a contract to one purchaser that would disadvantage another. Emergencies should be seen at once and there should be common waiting lists for cases that cannot be seen immediately.
The hon. Gentleman wants to deny better treatment when it is possible under the new system. He could always ask those in his constituency who have waited for more than a year for treatment at Southampton hospital whether they think bringing waiting times down is an improvement for them. He will find it hard to do so, because, under the present system, nobody has been waiting for more than a year at the hospital in his constituency.
§ Mr. Barry Field
Why did my hon. Friend not tell the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) about the Isle of Wight hospital trust, which moved its cardiac contract from Southampton, because the service was so awful, to King Edward VII hospital at Midhurst, where we now get a fantastic service? The surgeon concerned made a hell of a row publicly, because he preferred playing golf to getting on and doing the operations.
§ Mr. Malone
I am sure that my hon. Friend, who always speaks vigorously on behalf of his constituents, will lose no time in reminding them that, under the policies that the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) is preparing, which have been leaked, taking such action would not be possible. The reforms that we have put in place for the new NHS bring better 140 treatment for more people, more flexibility and decisions closer to the patient. Those are precisely the things that the Labour party is trying to destroy.
§ Ms Jowell
Does the Minister accept that variations in consultant practice may be another reason for different waiting times? Does he consider it acceptable that some consultant surgeons on maximum part-time contracts with the national health service should work three or four half-days a week in the private sector? Has he examined the evidence prepared by his own adviser, John Yates, on this? What action does he propose to take to ensure that consultant surgeon time, paid for by the national health service, is spent treating national health service patients?
§ Mr. Malone
It is, of course, the Government's policy to pursue over the long term local pay and contracts for the medical profession, which, if I have understood correctly, the Labour party is dead against. I remind the hon. Lady that there are already job plans which have to be agreed between trusts and consultants. A consultant's primary duty is, of course, to his or her NHS contract; that is clearly recognised and understood. The Government, however, very much welcome the fact that any additional work that a consultant may wish to do in the private sector can be done, as long as the balance is right. The Labour party, which continues to carp on about the issue, has brought forward no evidence that the balance is not right in any particular case.