asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many people were awaiting admission to hospitals in Staffordshire at the most recent count.
I refer my hon. Friend to my reply to him of 29 January in which I said that, at 30 September 1979, the latest date for which information is centrally available, there were 15,259 such people.
Does my hon. Friend agree that that figure is much too high? What steps is he taking to reduce it?
Yes. We are concerned about the level of waiting lists. Unlike the previous Labour Government, we intend to reduce those lists. We are restructuring the Health Service. We are maintaining small local hospitals that serve the local community. We are encouraging voluntary services to help. We are also encouraging the private sector. We have set up a special study on how to reduce the orthopaedic waiting list.
Is the Minister aware that an increasing number of my constituents tell me that, although they are in pain and although they are suffering, they have been told that they can gain immediate admission to a hospital only if they pay sums that are far beyond their pockets? They must wait months, or even years, if they cannot pay.
I do not accept that. By attacking that side of the Health Service, the hon. Gentleman ignores the fact that, when the previous Labour Government were in office, waiting lists increased by 234,998 patients. The appalling strikes of last winter increased the waiting lists by 125,000 patients.