HC Deb 27 January 1998 vol 305 cc140-2
12. Mr. Skinner

When he expects to announce the results of the review of the NHS with particular reference to waiting lists. [23424]

Mr. Milburn

On 18 November, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced a wide-ranging programme of action to ensure that fewer patients are waiting for admission to national health service hospitals by the end of this Parliament. The review of the NHS, to which my hon. Friend referred, is part of the Government's comprehensive spending review. In his statement to the House on 11 June, my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury advised that the review would take around 12 months to complete.

Mr. Skinner

Does my hon. Friend agree that, to turn this supertanker around, he will need money? Does he accept that, over the past few months, the NHS has received money over and above that included in the Tory spending limits—which I recommend as a good idea? Will he ensure that, in order to get waiting lists down, he takes account of the fact that there is already an extra £10 billion of tax income in this financial year? Will he tell his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the NHS wants a big slice of that? While he is talking to the Chancellor about using some of the money, will he also tell him that, instead of phasing in pay awards for nurses and others, he should pay them, like Members of Parliament, in one fell swoop?

Mr. Milburn

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is aware of my hon. Friend's views. My hon. Friend will be aware that, since the general election, the Government have invested an extra £1,500 million in front-line patient care. As he is also aware, the Government are committed to real-term increases in NHS funding not just next year but each and every year.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

The Minister is well aware that it has been increasingly difficult to get people who suffer from mental illness into hospital for appropriate care. It has been even more difficult to get people into hospital who require long-stay care for the treatment of mental problems. I congratulate the Secretary of State on the courage that he has shown finally to change the policy on community care for those suffering from mental health problems and disability, which is so often associated with mental handicap. Will the proposals that he hopes to put forward, which I appreciate will cost money, enable people with appropriate problems to gain access to hospital care and long-stay care if they need it—totally in accordance with the wishes of organisations such as SANELINE, which campaigns so well for the mentally ill?

Mr. Milburn

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's kind words about the recent announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Sometimes, there has been naivete about the potential benefits to all patients of care in the community. Of course, for some patients, the policy works, and works extremely well. But for others, it does not, has not and will not work. That is why we must strike an appropriate balance between care in the community, intermediate care, 24-hour nurse care, and, where it is needed, acute care in hospitals for severely ill patients.

Mrs. Anne Campbell

Is my hon. Friend aware of the sort of situation that was described to me by a consultant in my local hospital? He told me that he had to refer 300 patients back to their doctors for foot and ankle treatment because, under the guidelines laid down by the previous Government, he was simply not allowed to increase the waiting time for such patients. Is he aware that that means that there is a huge unmet need, which is one of the reasons why the Government will have many problems in trying to reduce waiting lists? Should not we really be blaming the Conservatives for not meeting the demand when it was needed?

Mr. Milburn

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Government inherited a very difficult position on waiting lists, which, as we have made clear from day one, will take time to remedy. We are committed to having fewer people waiting for hospital treatment by the end of this Parliament. In addition, we shall make progress year on year towards achieving that objective. For example, by the end of March, we shall eliminate the need for anyone to wait more than 18 months for hospital treatment. We shall then set further targets for improvement. There will be incremental improvement every year towards our objective of having fewer people waiting for treatment.