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Hospital Waiting Lists

Volume 931: debated on Tuesday 10 May 1977

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5.

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services in which year waiting lists for National Health Service hospitals were longer than in 1976.

I have only provisional figures, and it seems likely that in 1976 there will have been the longest lists of patients waiting and the largest number of in-patients treated.

I am determined to tackle this problem of waiting lists, which has plagued the NHS for the past 20 years. Under my supervision a report on waiting times has now been prepared with a series of constructive proposals. I am seeking the views of the health authorities, the Joint Consultants Committee and other professional bodies.

To what extent does the Secretary of State think that the Government's cut-backs in hospital spending are causing these lists to be as long as they are? What thought has he given to keeping open the surgical and other medical facilities at small hospitals, such as that in Newbury, which appear to be having to be closed down because they do not rate as district general hospitals?

There is a variety of reasons why the waiting list has in creased, such as the increasing elderly population and, therefore, the increasing demand for surgery in particular, and for other forms of treatment. There is also the industrial action that took place, and certainly, of course, the limitations on public expenditure—though I cannot say that in this case it is a question of cutbacks in public expenditure, because we are still in a position of growth in terms of public expenditure. However, I do not believe that the problem would be solved by any means by simply holding on to a large number of small, uneconomic hospitals. There is a wide variety of solutions to the problem. The document that I am now circulating puts forward some very constructive proposals.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that a constituent of mine who is awaiting admission to the plastic surgery unit at Sharoe Green Hospital, Preston, has been advised in the last few days, by letter, that 1,500 people are waiting for admission and that some will have to wait for a period of 10 years before they receive treatment? Is that situation not totally outrageous? What effect does queue-jumping have upon the situation?

In answering the original Question I said that I am extremely concerned about the matter of waiting lists. It is a problem that exists in my constituency as well as in the constituency of my hon. Friend. It is at least encouraging that 90 per cent. of those on waiting lists are classified as waiting for non-urgent treatment. The situation is now improving somewhat, because the number of people awaiting admission to hospital for urgent treatment fell by 5½ per cent. between March and September 1976, so what had been a worsening situation is now a situation which, for the first time for some time, is beginning to improve.

Since the length of the waiting lists is in some part dependent on the level of morale in the National Health Service, is the Minister aware that medical morale is being very severely shaken by the dreadful handling of the Doctors' and Dentists' Review Body Report? This report has been leaked to the medical Press and some family practitioner committees have draft amended statements on fees and commissions. When will the Government tighten up on this sort of thing, and when will they publish the report?

I do not follow how this question arises from a Question about waiting lists. If the right hon. Member will table a Question, I shall answer it. He touches on the subject of the morale of consultants. He should be aware that the number of consultants in post in England and Wales has increased by 3·4 per cent. in the last year, which indicates a movement forward in the National Health Service.