HC Deb 04 November 2003 vol 412 cc660-1
8. Mr. David Laws (Yeovil)

What progress has been made in reducing the waiting times for diagnostic testing. [135976]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton)

The NHS is committed to reducing the length of time that people wait before their treatment starts. The NHS plan has set targets for staged reductions in waiting times for first out-patient appointments and for in-patient treatment, which will help contribute towards reducing waiting times for diagnostic testing. By the end of 2005, patients with suspected cancer, for example, will be guaranteed that their treatment will start within two months of being urgently referred.

Mr. Laws

Does not the Minister recognise that some of the longest waiting times in the NHS are not for inpatient and out-patient appointments, but for diagnostic tests? Is it satisfactory that the Government are not publishing information that would allow us to judge what is happening to those waiting times? Will the Minister take up the suggestion by the independent Statistics Commission that the Government should publish the waiting times for diagnostic tests? That would allow us to see how long people wait for all aspects of NHS treatment.

Mr. Hutton

We shall certainly look carefully at all the recommendations made to us. Of course we want to reduce the length of time that patients have to wait before their diagnostic tests start, and before they get the results. That is obvious. We have made an important start in relation to cancer, about which people have the greatest anxiety. That will help to reduce the length of time that people have to wait for diagnostic services. However, Liberal Democrat Members are the least able to lecture the Government about waiting times, as they are against any waiting times targets whatsoever.

Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West)

Is my hon. Friend aware that, although good progress is being made in relation to work with cancer in my NHS trust in Coventry, the difficulties posed by coronary problems are of similar dimensions? A surgeon in my area has been suspended for nearly two years, at a cost of some several hundred thousand pounds. Could not he be reinstated? Will my hon. Friend take a personal interest in this matter and ensure that a fair compromise proposal that would get the surgeon back to work and reduce waiting times is agreed, with both sides dropping charges and no blame being apportioned?

Mr. Hutton

I am aware of that case, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson), who is responsible for public health, answered an Adjournment debate on it only recently in this House. Such matters are for the local trust to resolve, but I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that they are dealt with as quickly as possible. He will be aware that the National Clinical Assessment Authority has recently been in touch with the trust, to see what further progress can be made in relation to that dispute. I very much hope that progress can be made as quickly as possible.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk)

Can the Minister confirm the story that appeared in this morning's press that No. 10 intervened to ensure that Dr. Lee Kuan Yew's wife had her diagnostic treatment speeded up? Is that a proper way for No. 10 to behave? If No. 10 is able to secure preferential treatment for the wife of a visiting dignitary, why can it not intervene to ensure that no one has to wait for life-threatening periods for vital scans?

Mr. Hutton

No, I think that the position in relation to that case has been made clear already by a spokesperson for No. 10.