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Volume 171: debated on Tuesday 1 May 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health what is the number of out-patients currently being treated by the National Health Service; and how many were treated in 1979.

In the calendar year 1979, some 7·7 million new out-patients attended NHS hospitals in England. In the year ended 31 March 1989 the equivalent figure was 8·4 million.

Do not those figures give the lie to continual talk about cuts and financial difficulties in the Health Service? Can my hon. Friend confirm that in the Norwich health authority area 60,000 more outpatients were treated in 1989 than in 1979—an increase of 25 per cent.? Is that not a good record of which Norwich health authority and the Government can be proud?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right, and I confirm his figures. For the country as a whole, real expenditure on out-patient services has increased by 26 per cent. in the past 10 years.

Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures clearly illustrate that the massive sums spent by the Government have reduced waiting lists and, in real terms, have allowed many more patients to be treated? That is surely what the Health Service is about, and we must continue to get better and more efficient use of the vast sums of money that are put in.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Most hon. Members would agree that we can do even better in terms of service in out-patient departments, particularly appointment times. In December last year, the Department of Health issued a report recommending how out-patient waiting times can and should be reduced to give a better appointment system.