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Hospital Waiting Lists

Volume 130: debated on Monday 21 March 1988

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To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what is the latest information he has on the number of people waiting for in-patient treatment as (a) urgent and (b) non-urgent cases in (i) Clwyd and (ii) Wales.

The number of people waiting for urgent inpatient treatment in Clwyd at 30 September 1987 was 383, and in Wales 3,596. The numbers waiting for non-urgent in-patient treatment were 4,491 and 36,262 respectively.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the promise that he made last August? He pledged that by the spring of 1988 no patient waiting for an urgent operation should have to wait more than one month, and no patient waiting for a non-urgent operation should have to wait for more than one year. Today is the first day of spring. Every person in Wales knows that the waiting list is as bad as it ever was. Patients in the main specialties, such as general surgery, orthopaedics, ENT, and urology are dying before they get to the top of the waiting list. Did the Minister make his pledge last August out of simple political bravado, to build up the hopes of Welsh people, only to dash them cruelly today? If he did not, what has gone wrong?

The hon. Gentleman is spreading alarm rather unnecessarily. He mentioned particular sectors, which he also brought up in the last Welsh Grand Committee—general surgery, ophthalmology, urology and orthopaedics. I am pleased to say that in Clwyd the authority has reported that the urgent in-patient list in these specifications will meet targets. In addition, urology and ophthalmology non-urgent in-patient lists will meet targets in the same county.

I naturally urge my hon. Friend to increase further spending on the National Health Service at the earliest opportunity. However, his campaign to improve waiting-list performance figures in Wales has already shown itself to be a remarkably effective way of achieving value for money and, at the same time, a worthwhile improvement in health performances.

My hon. Friend is right. Increased expenditure on the Health Service under this Government has led to a greatly increased provision of treatment for patients — for example, 24 per cent. more in-patients were treated than under the last Labour Government.

Did the Under-Secretary of State notice that, just a week ago, the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave away over £4,000 million, much of it to people who did not need it, when it could have been used to help our health and social services? Does the hon. Gentleman recollect a claim made by the Secretary of State for Wales in The Observer that when he went to the Cabinet, he received every penny for which he asked? In view of the appalling waiting lists to which the hon. Gentleman has just confessed, which are even worse than the temporary peak of the winter of discontent, does he think that the Secretary of State asked for enough? How does he explain to the people of Wales why the Secretary of State did not ask for more?

It is worth pointing out that the right hon. Gentleman knows very well that the Budget is not to do with expenditure. He is trying to beguile the general public, who may not appreciate that point. In the expenditure figures in the autumn, spending on the Health Service rose by £700 million more than the expenditure of a year before, which the right hon. Gentleman's party held out to be an electoral bribe.