HC Deb 28 July 1998 vol 317 cc155-7
4. Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds)

What proportion of the increased funding provided to his Department in the most recent public spending allocations will be allocated to reducing waiting lists. [50979]

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

We have already announced an extra £500 million to tackle waiting lists this year, which means that we have spent a total of £2 billion extra on the national health service since we came into office. Under the comprehensive spending review, the NHS will receive a further £18 billion for the next three years, including £5 billion or more for the NHS modernisation fund. We shall ensure that that money is linked to results so that, in the lifetime of this Parliament, we reduce waiting lists by 100,000 from the level that we inherited.

Mr. Ruffley

Will the Secretary of State explain why he and his colleagues conned the British public before the general election by saying that it would cost only £100 million to reduce waiting lists by 100,000?

Mr. Dobson

We did not actually say that. At the most recent Health questions, I said, in response to an excellent question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), that I was fairly confident that waiting lists had stopped rising in June. I can now say that the preliminary figures show that they fell by about 21,000 in June—what is more, they will continue to fall.

Ms Margaret Moran (Luton, South)

I thank my right hon. Friend for the additional £630,000 that Bedfordshire health authority is receiving to cut waiting lists, which is in addition to the £2.8 million that it has already received. The money will help local hospitals to perform another 4,000 operations and will be of enormous benefit to patient care generally as well as to reducing waiting lists.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that part of that money will be spent on a new initiative to reduce the waste of theatre operating time owing to patient non-attendance? What other measures does he intend to take to ensure that valuable health resources are not wasted in that way?

Mr. Dobson

My hon. Friend is right. A substantial amount of time is wasted in hospitals when patients do not show up. We intend, through the new national health service charter—which will refer not only to patients' rights, but to their responsibilities—to draw attention to the fact that if someone does not turn up for an appointment, that harms not only them, but other people; moreover, it makes life difficult for hospital staff. We hope that, by publicising the damage that not showing up does to others, we can change the behaviour of those who have made hospital appointments or have had them made for them.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald)

May I use my first question to ask the Secretary of State whether he will take this opportunity to join me in placing on record a tribute to the Kent air ambulance, which crashed a few days ago with the loss of three lives? Will he pay tribute to the work of Graham Budden, the pilot, and Tony Richardson and Mark Darby, the paramedics? Will he also pay tribute, not only to all those who manned the air ambulance and did such sterling work, but to the entire community in Kent, which raised the money for the ambulance and supported it faithfully throughout?

Mr. Dobson

I certainly join the right hon. Lady in paying tribute to all concerned. I express my horror at what happened and my sympathy for the relatives and friends of those who died while trying to help others.

Miss Widdecombe

I am grateful to the Secretary of State.

I turn now to my main question. In order to get waiting lists down, it will, as the Secretary of State has said, be necessary to increase the number of doctors at general practitioner referral level and at work in hospitals. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the BMA that the 7,000 extra doctors that he has announced will be no more than the normal increase?

Mr. Dobson

The 7,000 extra doctors have to be paid for. But for the comprehensive spending review settlement, there would be no money to pay for them. Every year, medical schools produce approximately 3,400 new doctors, and we hope that the schools will continue to do so and that the doctors will find employment in the national health service. If the right hon. Lady wants to criticise us about the number of doctors available, let me remind her that it takes five, six or seven years to train a doctor. Any criticism of the numbers available today should be addressed to those who were in my office five, six, seven or eight years ago.

Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

Try again matron.

Miss Widdecombe

May I invite the Secretary of State to try again? Just answer the question. Yes or no will do. Will the 7,000 doctors that the right hon. Gentleman has announced be over and above the normal increase, or is that the number that would have come anyway from medical schools and other sources?

Mr. Dobson

The answer is no. Doctors coming from medical schools do not necessarily end up working in the national health service unless someone gives them a contract and pays them. Without the money, there would be no contracts, they would not be paid and they would not be working in the NHS.

Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that while it is important to put money into bringing waiting lists down—I congratulate him on doing so—organisation and sensible management are equally important? One of the most important factors in the driving up of waiting lists under the previous Government was the idiosyncrasies introduced by the internal market system. Does he agree that removing the internal market will go a long way towards smoothing the path of reducing waiting lists?

Mr. Dobson

I agree with my hon. Friend. One of our objectives in getting rid of the competitive internal market is to get rid of the expensive paperwork involved, which is using huge amounts of NHS money that we would deploy to treat patients rather than to buy paper to shuffle around the world.