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Hospital Waiting Lists

Volume 951: debated on Tuesday 13 June 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the average waiting period for a National Health Service patient requiring orthopaedic treatment.


asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the average waiting period for a National Health Service patient requiring general surgery.

I regret that the information is not available. Obtaining such statistics would involve considerable extra manpower. With each specialty, patients with very different conditions and of differing degrees of urgency would be averaged together. The results would not be sufficiently meaningful to justify the cost.

been an obsession of the right hon. Gentleman now for 10 or 12 years. I think that this obsession has done great damage to race relations in this country and to community relations. I believe that my hon. Friend is right and that the majority of people do not look at the colour of other people; they take them as citizens.

Following is the table:

I am much concerned with this problem, and my Department and the health authorities are energetically seeking to bring about an improvement.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the problem is not so much a shortage of surgeons as a shortage of facilities—beds, nurses, theatre time and physiotherapy—and that it is this which is causing these long waiting lists? Will he consider the possibility of using the facilities which are available in the private sector, for a fee, in order to overcome this present difficulty?

That is no answer. The reasons for the problem vary in different parts of the country. Sometimes there are staffing problems. There is also the fact that there is a constant increase in the demand by patients for treatment. There are more accidents. There is also a wider range of surgical techniques. There are more elderly people requiring additional support. There are more cases of cancer, and so on.

If I had produced the statistic that the hon. Gentleman wanted, it would have shown a tremendous variation. There are consultants in some parts of the country with quite short lists. Others, elsewhere, have very long lists. It is essential that the necessary information should be readily available to general practitioners, and that consultants should co-operate together. We should try to improve the management of waiting lists. It is not just a question of money and resources, important though that is.

Had the Secretary of State produced the statistics, there is no doubt that they would have shown a very unsatisfactory and deteriorating situation in many specialties. Bearing in mind that figures often conceal individuals in pain and misery for a very long period of time, what possible ground has the Secretary of State for telling the Royal College of Nursing that pessimism about the future could not be justified?

What I said to the Royal College of Nursing was that we have to get the problems of the National Health Service into perspective. I spelt out, as I have done several times to the House, some of the major pressures which bear upon the National Health Service. I made it perfectly clear that neither this Government, nor any other, would be able to provide adequate facilities to meet all the needs, because the demands are never ending. I said that we need to get into proportion the problems faced by those who work in the National Health Service, and at the same time note its great successes.

We have roughly the same sort of percentage of patients-10 per cent.—on waiting lists, and the number of inpatients treated in the National Health Service is steadily increasing year by year.

Will my right hon. Friend accept that the delay in obtaining orthopaedic appointments is one of the biggest single causes of unnecessary suffering, among young people particularly? Why has my right hon. Friend's Department placed a bar on the appointment of further registrars in orthopaedics?

Where there is a shortage of consultants in particular specialties, we have to do some sort of rationing to ensure that they are available in all parts of the country, and therefore to approve a post, if it would automatically then mean that another area would be deprived, would be unfair to that area.

Is the Secretary of State aware that nearly 1,000 people are awaiting orthopaedic surgery at the Newcastle hospitals, and that they include many who could be back in productive work if they could get hip operations?

Will the Secretary of State indicate whether he thinks that the opening of the Freeman Road hospital will make a difference, or can he think of further measures which could be taken?

I am sure that it will make a difference. That is why, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that additional funds were to be made available, we gave a high priority to ensuring that new hospitals would be fully commissioned as soon as possible, and we put additional money into the acute services for equipment and urgent maintenance, in addition to the special £2 million which was entirely linked with easing some of the problems of waiting lists.

Is it not true, contrary to what the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) said, that National Health Service facilities are sometimes used for the treatment of private patients because of the higher standards, for example, of asepsis in the National Health Service theatres?

Returning to the right hon. Gentleman's speech at Harrogate, since he has now been forced to concede that he ought never to have made that speech at all—and has gone so far as to say that in future he ought not to make any speeches at all to the nurses—will he confirm that he is not proposing altogether to cut out meetings of that sort? Such meetings give him the opportunity of a glance at reality, and at what it is like to work at the coalface in the National Health Service today, in contrast to his own blatant complacency, which aroused such fury on the occasion of that speech.

The right hon. Gentleman has totally misrepresented what I said. I said that the arrangement which had been reached, long weeks in advance of the conference, whereby those concerned wished me to send a script of what I was to say, does not lead to the best sort of exchange and the best sort of debate. I have made it clear that I am very anxious to see them and to have a talk around the table about some of their problems, but that I would much rather have a conference without any prepared speeches, at which we could deal directly with the issues which most worry the nurses.

The right hon. Gentleman knows that I spend a great deal of my time in travelling round the country, visiting hospitals, meeting doctors and nurses, and facing their problems.