§ 7. Mr. Eastham
To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many patients in the Manchester area have been waiting longer than 12 months for hospital admission. 
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. John Horam)
Provisional figures show that, on 31 December 1996, 384 people resident in the Manchester health authority area had been waiting more than 12 months for admission to hospital.
§ Mr. Eastham
I thank the Minister for that reply, but I was asking about current figures rather than those for last December. May I tell him that, for the North Manchester hospital alone, 180 people have been waiting longer than 12 months for admission? Further compounding the problem, the equivalent of almost two wards in that hospital are bed-blocked because social services cannot accommodate the patients outside the hospital. As a result, 913 consultant episodes concerning patients who need attention have not taken place.
§ Mr. Horam
If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about bed-blocking, he should take his complaint to the Manchester local authority, which is in the firing line when it comes to doing something effective about it. Over the past few months, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has helped with measures specifically designed to reduce bed blocking, so I am surprised that Manchester has not done a better job.
Equally, I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is not singing the praises of his native Manchester, which has a good record on waiting times. Over the past few years, there have been periods in which, in Manchester as a whole, nobody waited more than 12 months. As the House should be aware, the national picture shows that we have maintained the progress with waiting times, despite the attention now being turned to emergency care and mental illness. The hon. Gentleman really has nothing to complain about.
§ Mr. Atkins
Will not waiting lists in Manchester, at hospitals such as the Christie, be considerably helped by the building of the £5.8 million cancer unit at the Royal Preston, which will do a great deal to provide facilities for people in Preston? That will avoid their having to go to the Christie in Manchester, thereby improving the situation of patients both in Manchester and in Preston.
§ Mr. Horam
I am delighted that my right hon. Friend made that point. We are hearing a great deal about Lancashire today, and with good reason. Not only is a Caiman cancer unit being developed at Preston and Chorley; there are others at Blackburn and Burnley, Blackpool, Lancaster, and Kendal and Barrow. All represent new initiatives and are part of a clear programme to deal with cancer problems. I am delighted that Lancashire is taking the lead.
§ Mr. Barron
Will the Minister confirm that the Manchester figures are not unique, and that more than 1 million people are on hospital waiting lists nationally? That figure is increasing and it is the highest we have ever had. The health authority in Manchester has a current 716 deficit of £1.2 million. We assume that that has be found from next year's budget, which will mean even longer waiting lists in Manchester. Is that not further evidence of the mess and turmoil that the Government have created in the national health service, and one of the many reasons why they should not be elected for a fifth term?
§ Mr. Horam
On the contrary, it is an extremely good reason why we should remain in power. Waiting times have improved: the average wait is down from nine months to four months. When Labour was last in power in 1979, one in four people had to wait more than 12 months. That figure is now down to one in 50 people. In 1979, 25 per cent. waited for more than 12 months, whereas, under the Government, the figure is now only 2 per cent.