HL Deb 08 July 1991 vol 530 cc1210-3

2.57 p.m.

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What proportion of people on hospital waiting lists die before receiving treatment.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hooper)

My Lords, the vast majority of people on waiting lists are waiting for the treatment of conditions which are not life-threatening. Emergency cases do not go on a waiting list; they are treated immediately. Therefore, the information in the form requested would have no purpose and is not collected.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that many people feel that those figures should be collected to enable us to understand them? Many people who are on the waiting list for one or two years die from something other than that for which they require the operation. Very often they are so long waiting that the operation cannot be performed. Can the Minister say whether it would be possible for GPs to contact hospital authorities to inform them of the conditions of the patients they have sent there?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, we are aiming to make the National Health Service and the Department of Health more efficient. We feel that that aim would not be furthered by requiring unnecessary statistics to be collected. Sadly, with the passage of time people die. That applies to people who happen to be on waiting lists as well as people who are not. Tackling the length of time that people wait is what counts. We have achieved considerable success in that regard and numbers are plummeting.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, my noble friend mentioned people on waiting lists who sadly die for reasons other than those for which they are on that waiting list. Does my noble friend recognise that waiting lists are considerably inflated by such deaths and that it can take many months to remove those names from the waiting list?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, yes. We are issuing guidelines on the collection of data and the way that waiting lists are formulated for that purpose in particular.

Lord Northfield

My Lords, despite what the noble Baroness said, does she recall the exchanges that took place in this Chamber around a year ago? We gave figures for a district health authority in Surrey where the consultant cardiologist was absolutely convinced that people on his waiting list were dying because they were not able to be attended to. Is the Minister further aware that that consultant cardiologist wrote to me again saying that he estimates that, in his area of 125,000 people, in 12 years 25 deaths have occurred of people on the waiting list—three in the past 12 months—while waiting for heart treatment? At that rate he reckons the figure may be around 500 per annum for the whole nation. Is that not a reasonable estimate, coming from a man on the ground doing this work?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I believe I am right in understanding the noble Lord to be referring to the South West Thames Regional Health Authority in the example he gave. All cardiac emergency cases are treated immediately. For some heart conditions patients in that region are currently waiting between one and two years. The region has agreed a target of nobody waiting more than one year for cardiac surgery, and that target is to be reached by March 1992. It plans to double the number of open heart operations performed in 1990–92 during the coming year. That represents progress.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, does my noble friend agree with me that I would much rather have my treatment if I were going to live rather than if I were to die of something else?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I must agree with my noble and learned friend.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, does the Minister recall that on 4th July I asked whether she would refute press statements that the Government proposed to stop publishing waiting lists? Will she accept that if that were to be the case it would be very difficult for GPs who wish to provide for patients the opportunity of choosing between consultants with long or short waiting lists? Will the Minister also accept from me that on that date I had no intention of suggesting that she herself was personally unconcerned about the great length of waiting lists? Will she set the mind of the House at rest by answering the question that I asked on that occasion?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the article to which the noble Lord refers was simply wrong in its factual basis. We have never collected centrally, from hospitals, waiting time information. The important matter to focus on, as I have said on previous occasions, is the length of waiting time. The numbers are coming down. In the 12 months to September 1990 the number of patients waiting over one year was reduced by 7 per cent. In the seven months to April 1991, the provisional fast track figures show a further fall of 18 per cent. in patients waiting over one year.

Lord Kinnaird

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that in these days when no one is allowed to die a natural death it might be merciful for some to be allowed to do so?

Baroness Hooper

Yes, my Lords. I can think of a few myself.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, it is fairly well known that people who do not have a relative waiting for an operation in hospital who may die will find this discussion humorous. However, does the Minister agree that there are very many British people who do not find the position humorous? Is she also aware that the Inter-authority Comparisons Consultancy believes that if the old-fashioned card system were removed and replaced by modern computers, information would be obtainable much more speedily and perhaps reduce the numbers of those living a life of quiet desperation in our hospitals?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I believe that most people will welcome the fact that more people than ever before are being treated by our national health system. While there have been problems over long waiting times, we are tackling these with waiting list funds, special studies of the country's longest lists, new sharp management executive targets, and the appointment of 100 extra consultants.

Lord Mellish

My Lords, is the Minister aware that some of us on this side of the House consider this to be a daft Question? Furthermore, one might just as well ask the Minister for the figures for 10 years ago of those who died on the waiting lists. That information would be just as relevant.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I can tell the noble Lord that the in-patient waiting lists increased by 48 per cent. under the previous government. Under this Government they have fallen by 6 per cent.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, will the Minister accept that the current length of waiting lists is now nearly 40 per cent. higher than it was 12 years ago?

Baroness Hooper

No, my Lords.

Lord McColl of Dulwich

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the method of calculating waiting lists in the time in office of the Secretary of State, David Ennals, was quite different from the method used today? In his day, when a patient was given a date for the operation the patient was removed from the waiting list; therefore, comparisons are meaningless.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, yes. If we use a common basis for comparison the in-patient waiting list is the 6 per cent. decrease which I quoted earlier.

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