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Cancelled Operations

Volume 173: debated on Tuesday 5 June 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health what is the maximum and minimum number of operating theatre sessions cancelled by district health authorities last year.

Four districts reported no cancelled scheduled operating theatre sessions in 1988–89 and one reported just over 2,000 cancelled sessions.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment. Does he agree that the figures that he has just given show yet again that there are enormous discrepancies in the performances of different health authorities? Does he further agree that if only the less efficient could improve their performance, they could deliver far more health care for the same amount of money?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his good wishes. He made a good point. Both the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have pointed out the enormous discrepancy within health districts in the efficient use of operating theatres. The Bevan report shows that across the country the average utilisation is 70 per cent. If that were raised to 90 per cent., there would be a saving to the National Health Service of £100 million. The reforms that we intend to introduce next April will help to achieve that.

What steps are being taken to increase the average utilisation figure? Would improved information technology help, especially when patients do not turn up or when notes are not available to the surgeon carrying out the operation?

Improved technology certainly has a part to play and our response to the Bevan report recognises that. We are currently consulting on the lessons to be learnt from that report and we expect to issue guidance soon.

Was not there a recent case of an ophthalmic surgeon working in the Health Service carrying out more operations in one month than another ophthalmic surgeon carried out in six months? Do not NHS patients have the right to expect unanimity of good service, wherever they may live? Is not that the most important reason for the review of the NHS?

During my three and a half weeks in the job, that specific case has not been drawn to my attention. However, the principle espoused by my hon. Friend is right. We are introducing reforms next April to try to achieve that unanimity of service throughout the country.