HL Deb 15 June 1984 vol 452 cc1376-8

11.21 a.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what was the number of patients treated in National Health Service hospitals in 1982 and what was the corresponding figure for 1978.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Lord Glenarthur)

My Lords, in 1982 National Health Service hospitals in England treated nearly half a million more in-patients and day cases, and there were nearly 2 million more out-patient and accident and emergency attendances, than in 1978. These increases would have been higher but for the industrial action in 1982.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging reply. Do these improved figures indicate significantly increased expenditure on the National Health Service over that period, or do they indicate simply a shift in resources?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, we certainly do not share the view which has sometimes been expressed that the only way things can be improved is by massive injections of money, though expenditure has doubled in cash terms and represents 18 per cent. more than inflation. But there is much scope for improving services to patients and reducing waiting lists by better use of the resources which we already have.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, what conclusion does the noble Lord the Minister draw from a situation in which there have been, as he has said, continuing increases in in-patient and out-patient treatment over the past 10 years or so, while at the same time there is a historically high level of patient waiting lists, including more than 40,000 on the urgent list, doctors and nurses are unemployed, and, except for Greece, Britain is the lowest provider financially of health sere ice resources in Europe? What conclusion does he reach from that interesting sequence of facts?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I think that more than one conclusion can be reached from it. Waiting lists, as the noble Lord will know, are for us still a cause of concern, but the fact is that the record waiting lists which we inherited have been reduced and we want to bring them down further. Capital spending has been increased by 23 per cent.; the party opposite cut it by 33 per cent. Thirty-nine new hospital schemes, worth more than £5 million, have been started since April 1979. I could go on for a long time; but the fact is that the improvements in the way people can be treated are bound to result in an increase in waiting lists because there are now facilities which were not previously available. So to some extent it is success—nothing else—which has caused the increases in waiting lists.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, would the noble Lord accept that the very high levels of unemployment, as well as the great increase in the number of people on supplementary benefits, have also contributed very substantially to the number of people requiring treatment from the National Health Service?

Lord Glenarthur

No, my Lords, I would not accept what the noble Lord suggests.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister give a breakdown of the figures so as to show the number of patients treated in teaching hospitals and those treated in general and district hospitals, in particular in the new towns or areas where there is a population growth? Can my noble friend also give a breakdown of the number of patients treated for minor ailments requiring a 24-hour stay and those treated for accidents and lengthier illnesses needing longer hospital treatment?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot, without notice, give an answer to the first supplementary question of my noble friend. So far as attendances by new accident and emergency patients are concerned, the figure in 1978 was 9,170,000, and in 1982 it was 9,667,000.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, will my noble friend say whether he has comparable figures for Scotland? Does he agree that the figures for England are a great credit to the present Administration?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for that supplementary question. What he says about England is a great credit to the present Administration. I am afraid that I do not have the figures for Scotland, because of course I do not have any responsibilities for Scotland in this respect; it is managed by the Scottish Office. However, I can find out and I shall try to let my noble friend know.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that in an effort to reduce waiting lists, particularly for surgical in-patient treatment, it would be helpful if there was in the hands of general practitioners a computerised system of waiting time for hospitals all over Britain, so that the doctors could refer their patients to the hospitals which had the shortest waiting time? What are the Government doing about that?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I think that the noble Baroness has a point there. This is a matter on which my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health made an announcement fairly recently. I believe that this is the kind of thing we can do to help. My honourable friend yesterday made an announcement, a copy of which I can certainly let the noble Baroness have.

Lord De Freyne

My Lords, can my noble friend give me any figures, in any shape or form, as to those people who have appointments in the National Health Service but do not keep them?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I cannot give my noble friend figures on that, but it is certainly true that some people who have appointments do not keep them, and that of course is no great help.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that some hospitals are sending out notifications of appointments by second-class post and patients are not receiving the letters until it is too late, the appointments having been on, for example, a Tuesday, but the letters not arriving until the Wednesday?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am not aware of that, but it is a matter which should be drawn to the attention of the health authorities concerned. I think the noble Baroness would agree that this is a matter for the local health authorities to deal with, and I am sure they will note her remarks.

Baroness Vickers

My Lords, can the noble Lord state whether there have been any significant changes in the numbers of those waiting for treatment as in-patients in the National Health Service?

Lord Glenarthur

Yes, my Lords, the total number of NHS patients waiting for in-patient treatment on 30th September 1983 was 50,000 fewer than at 30th March 1979. It would have been lower still but for the industrial action in 1982.