HC Deb 15 December 1998 vol 322 cc758-60
20. Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

What the current trend rate is in NHS waiting lists; and what it was in the period up to May 1997. [62462]

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Frank Dobson)

We have reversed the rising trend in national health service waiting lists which we inherited from the previous Government. In the six months to March 1997, waiting lists rose by an average of 16,000 a month. In the latest six months for which figures are available, waiting lists have fallen by an average of 20,000 a month.

Mr. Simpson

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. It speaks volumes about the difference between this Government and our predecessors, and my right hon. Friend deserves to be congratulated by the House. Will he in turn join me in congratulating Nottingham health authority not only on continuing to meet the guidelines of no one remaining on the waiting list for more than 18 months, but on having in the past six months secured a 16 per cent. reduction in the number of people waiting between 12 and 18 months? Will he put a cherry on that particular cake by saying whether we have any Christmas suggestions as to how health authorities that meet those targets can be helped to maintain them in the year ahead?

Mr. Dobson

I certainly join in congratulating the staff of Nottingham health authority, and everyone else in the NHS, on all their hard work. Certainly, the biggest proportionate fall in waiting lists has been in the Trent region, which includes Nottingham. We will shortly be releasing an additional £32 million to tackle waiting list problems in the winter, and that money is intended to go to those health authorities that have had the greatest success. That, of course, will be followed by 10 times that sum—a further £320 million—to be invested in reducing waiting lists next year.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

Given that the Prime Minister answered a question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) two weeks ago about waiting times for out-patient treatment by saying that the explanation was that referrals were increasing, when in fact they were going down; and given that the number of people waiting was going up, while there was a reduction of 37,000 in the number of people being treated, will the Secretary of State confirm that, although the Government have this year presided over a reduction in waiting times for those who have seen their consultants but not yet been treated, there has also been an increase of nearly 200,000 in the number of people who have seen their doctor but are still waiting to see their consultant?

Is not the truth, in the last health questions of 1998, that the Government have not reduced waiting times; they have simply given people in the health service different ways of waiting?

Mr. Dobson

No is the answer to that. Since the Labour Government got in, an additional 300,000 waiting-list cases have been treated compared with the preceding 18 months under the Tories. An additional 300,000 emergency cases have also been treated during that time. The number of out-patients who have been treated has also risen: in the previous quarter, the number was 100,000 more than the number of out-patients treated in the last quarter under the Tories. So work on waiting lists is up by 300,000, work on emergency cases is up by 300,000 and work on out-patients is up by 100,000. How that can be a reduction, God only knows—except he may be a Liberal.

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