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Hospital Waiting Lists (Birmingham)

Volume 961: debated on Tuesday 30 January 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he is satisfied with the waiting lists for surgery in the Birmingham area.

Waiting lists and times are much longer than I would wish. The Birmingham area health authority (teaching) is opening a new eye department of 30 beds at East Birmingham hospital and is extending the existing eye department at Selly Oak hospital from 18 to 30 beds. It is proposed to upgrade and reopen the twin operating theatre suite and two wards at Good Hope hospital to relieve orthpaedic and surgical waiting lists. A further 11 ear, nose and throat beds will be provided in Selly Oak hospital.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the already disgracefully long period that my constituents have to wait for surgery will be made even worse by the NUPE dispute? Bearing that in mind, will the right hon. Gentleman dissociate himself from the remarks of the Secretary of State last Thursday when, in this House, he condemned the director of radiotherapy at the Queen Elizabeth hospital who had said that patients were being sent home and were not being allowed surgery, and that lives were at risk? Is he aware that the following day more than 100 nurses and doctors at that hospital backed the director and disagreed with the Secretary of State? Does he agree that they know best whether people's lives are at risk?

I am only too happy to take every opportunity of associating myself with remarks made by my right hon. Friend, and I rely on the area health authority to give me a feel as to what is happening in Birmingham. It dissociated itself from the consultant to whom the hon. Member referred. There is now an agreement between the management and the shop stewards at the hospital, and that is being operated.

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that general practitioners in Birmingham have adequate information on the waiting lists of various consultants so that they can avoid using the prima donnas all the time? This causes extensive waiting lists, which are not necessary.

This is a matter in which the National Health Service has been traditionally inadequate. We have done our best in recent years to make sure that details about waiting lists are circulated to GPs so that they can take rational decisions.

Is the Minister aware that greatly lengthened waiting lists for orthopaedic surgery in Birmingham cause painful distress to those affected? Will he look especially at that issue, and also at the waiting list affecting Selly Oak hospital?

The area health authority has taken action to upgrade and reopen the twin operating theatre suite and two wards of the Good Hope hospital to relieve orthopaedic and surgical waiting lists. A further 11 ear, nose, and throat beds are to be opened at the Selly Oak hospital.

Will my right hon. Friend make clear that, sad as it is that there should be waiting lists for surgical conditions, these are for non-urgent conditions, and that every emergency and every urgent surgical condition receives immediate treatment?

I agree with my hon. Friend that there is provision to make sure that urgent cases are dealt with within a month, throughout most of the country. I agree also that waiting lists are a crude indication of the facilities available. Many factors are involved besides a shortage of facilities, though this does occur from time to time.

Reverting to the Minister's remarks about the director of radiology, is it not regrettable that he cannot recognise that the Government cast an unjustifiable slur on a very distinguished man? Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that the view that that doctor expressed was shared by all his colleagues in the hospital and by the hospital administration, and that his patients accounted for only about one-third of those who had to be sent home because of the interruption of supplies? Will he recognise that justice requires a retraction of what was said on Thursday?

I should not wish to retract anything that my right hon. Friend said on that occasion. It was a justified description of the real situation at the hospital, and the area health authority was clear that my right hon. Friend had accurately described what was going on.