HL Deb 12 April 1978 vol 390 cc622-5

2.50 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many operating theatres have been closed, and how many new ones provided, in the last three years.


My Lords, as I informed the noble Baroness when I replied to her related Question on 2nd March, information on the number of operating theatres which have been closed is not available centrally. Nor is information on the number of new theatres provided, but I can give an assurance that operating theatres are not permanently closed before provision has been made for the surgery which would have been carried out in them to be performed elsewhere, usually in more up-to-date theatres.


My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, and also for responding so quickly to letters that I have exchanged with him. May I ask him whether he is happy about the priority which is being given in the money available between the housing of the administrative staff and the medical side? Is he aware that in a county like mine, Sussex, we have a great many retired people and that our waiting lists hear very heavily upon them because of their age? We have a waiting list of three years in one town. I am glad that the noble Lord said that new operating theatres were available before old ones were closed. That is not our experience in West Sussex. An operating theatre closed there and a new one was not paid for.


My Lords, the noble Baroness will recall that when I wrote to her I pointed out that the suite of four theatres to which she made reference was closed from 23rd January to 20th February this year for a thorough overhaul. This has been done and they are now in use. Meanwhile, the two operating theatres in the accident and emergency department were in fact used during that period. We have no evidence at all that this resulted in any delay. With regard to how money is spent, I can only say that this is the responsibility —as the noble Baroness knows—of the Regional Health Authority, to whom my Department makes an allocation to be spent according to their priorities for the area. I think it is a matter for them and not for my Department.


My Lords, notwithstanding my noble friend's reply to that, may I ask him whether he will take an early opportunity to congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on an excellent Budget yesterday, and also to congratulate him on the provision of a great number of kidney machines?


My Lords, I am delighted to do so. If this matter was raised, I would have made a brief remark about it.


My Lords, arising out of the noble Lord's previous reply in regard to Regional Health Authorities, can the Government tell us whether the £50 million allocated for additional health facilities will be allocated for the purpose of administration or for part of the Health Service, such as operating theatres, to which the Question referred?


My Lords, as I understand the position, it includes resources for specific improvements in patient services such as the full opening of newly-completed hospitals and facilities to cut waiting lists. I think that this is what my right honourable friend said in another place yesterday, and I do not think I can go beyond it.


My Lords, can my noble friend give the House an assurance, in view of the length of hospital waiting lists, that the operating theatres which have not been closed are now being fully utilised?


My Lords, I would naturally need to have notice of this question. I think we would be very surprised if we found that there were operating theatres not in continuous use. or not in use by the consultants themselves as often as the circumstances permitted.


My Lords, further to that answer, may I ask whether the noble Lord is aware that there are operating theatres in various parts of the country—I understand that Rochdale is a recent example—which are open but which are nevertheless unused because of a shortage of anaesthetists? Is he also aware that this arises in part because anaesthetists, who do not need linguistic ability, can very easily take over posts in the EEC almost overnight at substantially increased earnings?


My Lords, I would accept that there is a shortage of anaesthetists. We are aware of this and are endeavouring to do something about it.


My Lords, could the noble Lord tell us how many of the new theatres are built of prefabricated units made by such a firm as Honeywell? These units have been found to be extremely efficient quickly put together, and make a great contribution economically to the hospital bill.


My Lords, without notice I cannot answer that question. I shall certainly find out and let the noble Baroness know. On the other hand, if she wishes the House to know and cares to put down a Question for Written Answer, I shall deal with it in that way.