HC Deb 28 July 1998 vol 317 cc160-1
7. Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

What estimate he has made of the number of people awaiting out-patient consultations on (a) 1 May 1997 and (b) 1 May 1998. [50982]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Paul Boateng)

Information on the number of people nationally awaiting out-patient consultations is not available centrally. However, information on first out-patient appointments shows that at March 1998, 81 per cent. of patients were seen within 13 weeks of general practitioner written referral and 96 per cent. were seen within 26 weeks. That compares with figures for March 1997 of 83 per cent. and 97 per cent. respectively.

Mr. Bercow

At Stoke Mandeville hospital, which serves thousands of my constituents, there has been an 88 per cent. increase in the number of people waiting for out-patient appointments for between 13 and 26 weeks since the Government came to office. What proportion of the alleged fall in waiting lists—which is, as yet, unpublished—is due to an increase in the waiting list to get on the waiting list?

Mr. Boateng

We have made it crystal clear that our targets on waiting lists should not be achieved at the expense of out-patient appointments, and we shall implement that policy. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will give credit to, indeed thanks for, the additional resources that have been made available in his constituency which have provided 51 extra beds, which would not have been available if the hon. Gentleman's party were in government, and 4,280 extra treatments. It is time we received some gratitude from Opposition Members for those resources.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon)

Is my hon. Friend aware that part of the £2 million awarded to Barnet health authority to tackle waiting lists will be used to increase out-patient sessions at Edgware hospital, which the previous Government closed? Does not that show that this Government are trying to restore health services to the area, unlike the Conservatives when they were in government?

Mr. Boateng

My hon. Friend has performed a sterling service for Edgware hospital in his constituency and in north-west London generally. It is good news that the hospital is now delivering the new, modernised health service for which the people of his constituency and many others voted.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge)

Will the Minister acknowledge that what matters to patients is the total waiting time from GP referral to treatment? Will he further acknowledge that reduced numbers on the waiting list for surgery will be a pyrrhic victory if the waiting list to get on the waiting list is getting longer? Will he therefore arrange for data on the total out-patient waiting lists in the UK to be collected and published with in-patient waiting lists in future?

Mr. Boateng

Those data were never available under the previous Government, and they will not be available under the present one. What counts is that we should shorten waiting lists across all fronts. Out-patients and in-patients alike will benefit from that. They did not benefit in that way under the previous, Conservative-led Government.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

According to figures that I have received from the Library, at the end of the financial year 1995–96, the debt owed to the national health service by non-NHS debtors was a staggering £543 million. Does my hon. Friend agree that many of the difficulties that the previous Administration bequeathed to the national health service could be dealt with if some of the debt that they left us were collected?

Mr. Boateng

The previous Administration have a great deal to answer for, and that is a small part of it.