HC Deb 22 July 1997 vol 298 cc749-50
11. Mr. Blunt

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many NHS in-patients were waiting over one year for treatment (a) in March 1979 and (b) in the latest month for which figures are available. [7953]

Mr. Milburn

At the end of March 1979, there were 185,195 patients waiting more than a year for treatment at national health service hospitals—an increase of 24 per cent. over the previous year. The final figure for the end of March 1997 is 31,208. This represents an increase of 580 per cent. over the previous year.

Mr. Blunt

Given the startling contrast between 180,000 in 1979 and 30,000 today, when does the Minister expect the Government to deliver on their manifesto promise of reducing waiting lists by 100,000? Or is it impossible to give a date, because the Minister knows that the Government's policies are a mirage and will not work or deliver reduced waiting lists? Perhaps the Minister would be better off speculating about the date when the Prime Minister will invite the Secretary of State to pay the price of the hospital pass that he gave when he appointed him.

Mr. Milburn

The Government are already delivering on their manifesto promises. We said that we would cut bureaucracy: we are cutting it. We said that we would get rid of the two-tier national health service: we are. We said that we would replace the internal market: we are. No one in the Labour party underestimates the problems that we were left by the previous Government. Certainly, the Conservative party set some NHS records—record numbers of patients waiting for treatment, record numbers of health authorities in trouble and a record fall in staff morale.

Mr. Pike

My hon. Friend will recognise that the real waiting time for the average member of the public waiting for hospital surgery starts from the date of first referral by the general practitioner, not from the first consultation with a specialist. When will Labour's commitment to abolishing the bureaucracy that has been created be put into effect to eliminate that problem, to ensure that people get surgery as speedily as possible?

Mr. Milburn

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Patients judge how long it takes to get NHS treatment from the point of referral by the GP, so waiting times are high. In the short term, they are set to get higher, precisely because of the legacy that we face. We shall do all we can as soon as we can to bring waiting times down.

Mr. Keetch

When will these 100,000 additional placements be dealt with by the Government? How will the Government calculate the number? Did not the Under-Secretary accept earlier that there is no way of calculating the figure? Is it not true that the Government gave a manifesto commitment that they do not know how to achieve?

Mr. Milburn

I repeat, for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman, who was clearly not listening earlier, that the Government are committed to delivering, and are delivering, their manifesto commitments. The fact that we have cut £100 million from NHS bureaucracy to put it into patient care is the first sign of things to come. The second sign of things to come is the Budget announcement by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of increased NHS spending of £1 billion in England. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Liberal Democrats went into the general election promising to increase the NHS budget by £500 million: we have doubled that.

Mr. Maples

I assume that the hon. Gentleman took his earlier figures from the Department of Health statistical bulletin for 1997; it was good to hear him quoting the Department's statistics without rubbishing them. Will he confirm, however, that they also show that, in March 1979, 25 per cent. of people on the waiting list had been waiting for more than a year, whereas at the end of March this year, when this Government took over, the figure was down to 6 per cent.?

Mr. Milburn

I can confirm that, by March 1997, there had been an increase of 580 per cent. in the number of NHS patients waiting for hospital treatment. In the year to March 1979, there had been an increase of rather less than that. We have certainly set some records concerning the NHS waiting list. [Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman would stop chuntering and start listening, perhaps he would learn something.