HC Deb 09 June 2004 vol 422 cc255-7
1. Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con)

What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister of the National Assembly for Wales about progress in reducing NHS waiting times. [177354]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain)

I regularly meet the Assembly Fiat Minister, and the health service in Wales is one of the topics that we frequently discuss.

Andrew Selous

Given that health spending in Wales constitutes a higher proportion of the gross domestic product than it does in either France or Germany, why have waiting lists increased by 80 per cent. in the past five years? Given that one of his own Back Benchers—the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones)—said that the NHS is in need of urgent reform, and given that a 69-year-old Swansea man has waited more than three and a half years for a hip operation, will the Secretary of State agree to meet Conservative health spokesmen to discover how Opposition health reforms could benefit the people of Wales?

Mr. Hain

There is a convention in the House whereby Ministers agree to receive delegations from Members, but I am not sure that that one would be very productive. It would take us back to the past and to a Conservative record in Wales that was awful. Seventy hospitals closed, more than a third of general and acute beds were lost between 1979 and 1997, and nursing and midwifery training places were cut. However, in Wales we are now moving ahead. We are recruiting more consultants and more nurses, waiting times are coming down and more hospitals are being built. The health service is improving under Labour, just as it was cut under the Tories.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, contrary to the gloomy views expressed by the Conservative party as part of a last-minute effort before tomorrow's elections, the facts speak for themselves in my local trust, the North West Wales NHS Trust? Its consultant orthopaedic surgeons are able to offer treatment within six months, and in dermatology 96 per cent. of patients are seen within three months. According to The Sunday Times, it is the top performing trust in Wales, and for the fourth year running one of its hospitals is among the top 40 best performing hospitals in the UK.

Mr. Hain

My hon. Friend speaks for Wales, and for north-west Wales in particular, in a way that the Conservatives cannot, because they have no parliamentary representation in Wales. As she accurately points out, things are improving. They have to improve a lot more, but there is more investment, more nurses, more doctors and more provision to ensure that such improvements continue. In particular, waiting times for cardiac surgery, orthopaedic treatment, cataract surgery and angiograms are improving.

Mr. Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con)

It is an insult to the 302,730 people on a waiting list for the Secretary of State time and again to make incorrect claims about my party and our policies. He should know, because the information has been published, that we have promised to spend £68 billion on schools and the NHS in Wales.

Let us get on to what is happening. Ten per cent. of the population—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The one thing that the hon. Gentleman has got to do is to ask a supplementary question.

Mr. Wiggin

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. Can the Secretary of State tell the House why The Western Mail reported that at an Assembly Cabinet meeting on 19 January, Ministers secretly discussed the way in which NHS waiting lists in Wales are calculated? The Labour Assembly seems to be more concerned with fiddling the figures than with reducing the actual waiting times that people are suffering. It appears that Assembly Ministers are anxious to present an improved list of waiting time figures to disguise their appalling record on health and to appease their party's MPs, who are already rightly panicking ahead of the next general election. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the Welsh Assembly will not be changing the way in which waiting lists are calculated, in order to fudge the figures?

Mr. Hain

Talking of fudging figures, if I heard the hon. Gentleman correctly, he just said that he intends to spend an extra £68 billion on health and education in Wales.

Mr. Wiggin

indicated assent.

Mr. Hain

He nods his head, but the current entire budget for Wales is £13 billion, which means that he is going to spend some five times as much as that. In the light of that Mickey Mouse figuring, is anybody taking seriously anything that he says about these issues?

Mr. Wiggin

I stand corrected—the £68 billion figure applies across the whole of the UK. I rather wish that the Secretary of State was always as helpful to me when I am trying to get answers from him. On waiting times in Wales, perhaps he can explain why the figures for this April show an increase of 8,487 people, compared with March. Of course, they are among the 302,730 people—one in 10 people in Wales—currently on an in-patient or out-patient waiting list.

There are more people waiting this year than last, and waiting lists have increased by 80 per cent. since 1999.

Wales has the highest waiting list, not just in the UK, but in the whole of Europe. Despite that, Jane Hutt clearly said that her policies were "having an effect". Is the Secretary of State happy with the effect of the Government's policies, and does he think that Jane Hutt is doing a good job?

Mr. Hain

I am very happy with the progress being made in comparison with the dreadful record under the Conservatives. We inherited that legacy. Just look at the figures. There are 4,000 more nurses in Wales since Labour came to power; 300 more whole-time equivalent consultants; waiting times for key procedures are coming down; 10 new hospitals are either being or have already been built; and there are 178 more acute beds. That is all progress, which is resulting in better health provision for Wales. That is why the people of Wales will continue to back Labour and continue to reject the Tories.

Albert Owen (Ynys Mon) (Lab)

My hon. Friend the Member for Conwy (Mrs. Williams) was right to point to the fact that the North West Wales NHS Trust is the best performing trust in Wales in respect of out-patients and in-patients. However, despite the fact that many nurses train in the locality, the ratio of nurses to beds is one of the lowest because they often move to other parts of Wales and, indeed, to England. Will my right hon. Friend meet the appropriate Welsh Assembly Minister to ensure that local nurses are allowed to remain in the area and work for the local NHS?

Mr. Hain

I meet the First Minister regularly and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary meets the Minister for Health and Social Services regularly. It is certainly a matter that we can draw to their attention. My hon. Friend will be aware that more and more nurses are being recruited. He will also be aware of my response to the previous question and know that 250,000 more patients are being seen in the Welsh health service under Labour than under the Tories. That is an indication of the way standards are going up and of how people's needs are being satisfied and their relief of pain met.

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