HC Deb 30 June 1998 vol 315 cc143-5
10. Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

When he expects there to be a downturn in hospital waiting lists; and if he will make a statement. [46610]

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

The evidence is that today, as we are speaking, hospital waiting lists are coming down. Early indications from the NHS executive show that waiting lists stopped rising in May and have been coming down in June: the supertanker has turned. I am confident that that will be confirmed when the validated figures are published in August. The Government intend to ensure that the waiting lists keep coming down.

Mr. Skinner

That is wonderful news, especially as it was not even a planted question—I showed great perception when I tabled the question a fortnight ago. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as a testament to the health service that we have been discussing in the past 45 minutes, we should ensure that, having built it, we now rebuild it for the next century after the destruction caused during the past 18 Tory years? That will need a lot more money, and my right hon. Friend has asked for more money in the past from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and from the Prime Minister. We shall need at least £12 billion between now and the next general election to ensure that the promises that we made last time will be carried out, and that the Tories will be sent packing.

Mr. Dobson

I am sure that no one would have dared suggest that my hon. Friend had tabled a planted question. If I may say so without embarrassing him, I cannot think of anyone for whom I would rather have provided that reply. I shall bear his point in mind. When we compare ourselves with the people who founded the national health service 50 years ago, we should remember that they founded it on an act of faith. They hoped it would work; we know it works.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald)

We congratulate the national health service, which is why the Opposition Front-Bench team are proud to wear their badges. That view does not seem to be shared by the Secretary of State or the Minister of State. May I invite the Secretary of State to ask his hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) to congratulate the previous Conservative Government, who built the Bolsover community hospital, which I assume his constituents use, and the nearby Chesterfield and North Derbyshire Royal hospital, which is a large, successful hospital that his constituents also use? We built those hospitals.

May I turn to the right hon. Gentleman's rather hopeful answer, although he did admit that it was not based on any firm statistics? Have not the Government merely taken the first step towards getting the lists down to the level they inherited from us and away from their own record levels? Waiting lists are not coming down; under this Government, they have been going up to record levels, and the Government admit that it will take them half a Parliament just to get them down to the levels that we left them with.

Mr. Dobson

The right hon. Lady may expect my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) to congratulate the Tory Government, but probably the only thing he would congratulate them on is being so useless that they lost the last election by the biggest landslide in the 20th century. The right hon. Lady would like the waiting lists to continue to rise, because that would be to the political advantage of the Tory party, but they are coming down.

Miss Widdecombe

The right hon. Gentleman has not entirely answered my question. Is this not just the first predicted, not even guaranteed, step towards getting waiting lists down to the level at which we left them? Will he also please tell us how the waiting lists for the waiting lists are doing? Why is he refusing to publish information about waiting times for out-patient appointments as requested by my hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond)? Will he tell us about rationing, which has meant that four minor operations are no longer available anywhere in the country on the national health service? Is that also a means of getting waiting lists down?

When he has answered my questions—I say this in great hope, because it is more likely that his hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) would congratulate us than it is that the Secretary of State would answer a question—will he guarantee that at this moment, no other area in the NHS is suffering as a result of his concentration on the failed delivery of his early pledge?

Mr. Dobson

I do not know how the right hon. Lady understands the concept of movement. If waiting lists were rising and are now coming down, I think it fairly obvious that that constitutes a first step—like, perhaps, the first step taken by the people who used to escape from prison when the right hon. Lady was Minister with responsibility for prisons.

Any journey has to begin with a first step, and this is that first step. I am not pretending that it is the second step, or the third step; but I am promising that there will be more steps, and that they will mean that waiting lists come down.

Miss Widdecombe

May I have the answers to my questions about the waiting lists for waiting lists, the waiting times for out-patient appointments, rationing whereby minor operations are no longer available and the fact that other parts of the NHS are suffering as a result of concentration? May I have those answers, please?

Mr. Dobson

We publish exactly the same information as was published by the last Government throughout the 18 years during which they were in office. They did not publish information about the length of time for which people were waiting for out-patient appointments, and we have not started to do so, although it is possible we shall.

If the right hon. Lady believes that certain people are being denied operations to which they are clinically entitled, will she give me the details? I will then follow up the information, and ensure that the people concerned have those operations. Will the right hon. Lady do that, instead of just making cheapskate remarks over the Dispatch Box?