HC Deb 27 January 1998 vol 305 cc134-6
5. Mr. Ian Bruce

What is the current trend in hospital waiting lists. [23417]

9. Mr. Viggers

If he will make a statement on progress in reducing hospital waiting lists. [23421]

Mr. Dobson

As I have said before, the Government will ensure that by the end of this Parliament, hospital waiting lists are shorter than the record levels that we inherited from the previous Government—record levels that were rising faster than at any time in the 1990s.

Mr. Bruce

My question was a short one, and that was not the answer to it. The right hon. Gentleman and his team hit the ground running when they took over the Department of Health, but surely he has realised by now that he is running in the opposite direction to the one in which he said he would go. Waiting lists are going up to record levels, and we had a report overnight about what was happening in accident and emergency departments, even though there is no flu epidemic as there was last year. The right hon. Gentleman has announced in the past week that he wants more people to go back into mental hospitals, and that he wants abortions to become easier, but he does not have the money needed because of the inflation that his Government have caused. What will he do about bringing down waiting lists now, not in five years' time?

Mr. Dobson

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman if I did not refer to "the current trend" in waiting lists. I thought that I had explained that we inherited a record level, and that waiting lists were then rising faster than they had ever risen before. They are no longer rising faster than they have ever risen before. As I have said to the hon. Gentleman before, waiting lists are like a supertanker: it takes time to slow down the increase, it will take longer to stop it, and it will take even longer to turn waiting lists round, but turn them round we will.

Mr. Viggers

May I remind the Secretary of State of the Labour party manifesto, which included the very simple promise: We will … End waiting for cancer surgery."? Will he take this opportunity to apologise to the woman who, this week, had to wait 27 hours on a trolley while needing renal dialysis? Will he apologise to the women who need operations for breast cancer, who now have to wait twice as long for their operations under the national health service than patients in private medicine? Above all, will he apologise to all the people who voted Labour because they thought that the Government would be capable of fulfilling their promises?

Mr. Dobson

I will not apologise for any of the things that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, and I certainly will not apologise for abandoning the eighth round of GP fundholding and transferring the £20 million that the previous Government had earmarked for the bureaucracy of fundholding, or for diverting £10 million into improved breast cancer treatment for women and £5 million into improved children's intensive care.

Mr. Truswell

On the question of tackling waiting lists, will my right hon. Friend and his team accept the thanks of my constituents for the part that they played in progressing the planning process affecting the future of Wharfedale general hospital? However, will they acknowledge the increasing anger of local people at the way in which services at the hospital are being run down, including the proposed withdrawal of 60 acute beds? Will my right hon. Friend and his team do their utmost to ensure that Wharfedale general hospital continues to be a genuine general hospital, providing a wide range of services to the surrounding communities?

Mr. Dobson

As my hon. Friend knows, I met a delegation from the Wharfedale general hospital recently. Although I am not supposed to issue edicts about the future of hospitals from the Dispatch Box, I think that I can safely say that it is unimaginable that that hospital should cease to be in Otley and cease to provide a wide range of services for local people. Those who are putting around stories to the contrary are misleading the local people.

Miss Melanie Johnson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we should not keep it a secret that his Minister of State has a 40th birthday today? I am sure that the House will join me in congratulating him on his birthday.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Dorset health authority has had substantial extra funds? I understand that these are an additional £401,000 for intensive care for children, and an additional £1.7 million for winter pressures. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is tackling the problems faced by the health service in a way in which the previous Government certainly did not?

Mr. Dobson

I can confirm that my hon. Friend's figures for the extra funds that have been found for Dorset are as accurate as her recognition of the 40th birthday of my hon. Friend the Minister of State.

Mr. Maples

I join in congratulating the Minister on his birthday. I think that it makes him 10 years younger than the health service. I wish that I could say the same of myself.

If certain London hospitals knew their future, would not that help to reduce waiting lists in London? The Turnberg report has, I believe, been sitting on the Secretary of State's desk for several weeks. Why is he hiding its conclusions from the public?

Mr. Dobson

I certainly received the report of the Turnberg review. I have been discussing it with my colleagues and hope shortly to publish both the report and our considered response to it.

Mr. Maples

Is not it the truth that the Turnberg committee was set up to resolve the Bart's problem and that it has not done so? It has not given the Secretary of State a convenient solution, so he will have to make up his own mind about it, but, because he is having great difficulty in making up his own mind, he dare not publish the report. May I remind him, while he is thinking about the Turnberg report, that when he set up the committee, he promised a moratorium on further rundowns and closures of London hospitals? Since then, Queen Mary's University hospital, Roehampton, and Edgware Community hospital have been run down to the point where they have effectively been closed as district general hospitals. How many more London hospitals do the Government propose to close?

Mr. Dobson

As I wrote that policy commitment, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we promised that there would be no hospital closures during the Turnberg review. There have been no hospital closures. I have read the Turnberg report and I have a good idea of the Government's response to it, but all I can say to the hon. Gentleman and his eager colleagues is watch this space.