asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what was the estimated increase in the number of people awaiting admission to hospitals between 1974 and 1979.
On 31 December 1974, a total of 517,424 people were awaiting admission to National Health Service hospitals in England, compared with 752,422 on 31 March 1979, the latest date for which figures are available. That is an increase of 234, 998.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the figures are an appalling indictment of the National Health Service when presided over by the Labour Party? Do not the figures compare unfavourably with those of our European partners? Can my hon. Friend offer hope that the waiting lists will be diminished, as they were when we were last in government?
Yes. I believe that we shall reduce waiting lists. Britain is the only country in Western Europe where almost half of the hospitals were closed for almost two months to all but emergency admissions. Last winter added 125,000 to the waiting lists.
Is not the really shocking indictment the closure of hospitals, either temporarily or permanently, that is occurring under this Government? How much will that increase the waiting lists for admission in the coming year? Will the Minister come to Derbyshire and talk to the authorities there, because they are having to close seven hospitals this year alone?
Under the previous Administration about 280 hospitals were closed or approved for closure. On 31 March this year proposals for the closure of a further 31 hospitals were made and proposals for the closure of 2,363 beds were in the pipeline.
In order to put the matter into perspective, will my hon. Friend say how many beds are involved and how many urgent cases there are on the waiting lists?
It is difficult to give exact figures of the numbers of beds involved. Across the country over 3,500 beds, in brand-new hospitals, have been opened so far this year. Over 1,000 more beds are scheduled for the next three months.
How can the Minister succeed in tackling the waiting list problem when his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State states clearly to the world at large that he would rather spend more money on defence than on the Health Service?
We are not sitting idly by allowing waiting lists to become worse, as the previous Government did. Only this morning we produced a consultation paper on reorganising management in the National Health Service which we believe will contribute to that end. Last week we issued a clear guide to health authorities and staff so that they know exactly how they stand during an industrial dispute. We have achieved more in a few months than the previous Government did in four years.