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Angiogram Services

Volume 404: debated on Tuesday 29 April 2003

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If he will make a statement on waiting times for angiogram services. [109810]

The national service framework for coronary heart disease goal is for a maximum three-month wait for angiography. NHS and New Opportunities Fund capital investment totalling £125 million is now putting in place more than 80 new or replacement angiography suites to support faster diagnosis. Ensuring rapid reductions in angiography waiting times is a priority for the three-year local delivery plans.

I am grateful for that answer, but could I just tell my hon. Friend about the case of one of my constituents? He was in hospital recovering from a heart attack and was due to have an angiogram a day later. He was then discharged, however, and returned home. He subsequently received a letter saying that it would be more than a year before the angiogram would be carried out. I have taken the matter up with the health authority and it tells me that one of the reasons that it is not going to be able to meet its heart surgery waiting time targets is because of this huge blockage in getting diagnoses through angiograms. Will my hon. Friend do all that she can to ensure that our commitment to better and faster treatment is matched by a commitment to better and faster diagnosis?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The whole of the patient journey has to be improved in terms of access to services, whether that involves diagnostics or treatment. I know that there has been a particular problem in his area. It lost one of its cardiologists last year, but that vacancy has now been filled and it has funding for a third consultant in that field, which should mean that the angiography should be able to proceed much more quickly. I would say to my hon. Friend, however, that in 1997, only 52,000 angiograms were carried out in this country, compared with the 80,000 carried out in 2001. There is, therefore, clearly more capacity in the system, but we have to build on that even more to ensure that patients get treated as quickly as possible.

Does the Minister agree that, when dealing with patients with heart disease, the sickest must be treated quickest? Does she at least acknowledge that there is a danger that, in meeting elective angiography waiting time targets for the least urgent patients, critical patients could be made to wait longer? Does she think it sensible or ethical, for example, that a patient with critical ischaemia who is at risk of heart attack or sudden death should wait at home for weeks for a day-case slot for angioplasty, or occupy a hospital bed for days or even weeks, running the same risk, while waiting for an angioplasty? What is the Minister going to do about that distortion of clinical priorities?

The hon. Gentleman knows well that clinical priority is always the most important issue in the national health service. He will also know that, because we set targets for heart surgery, this year there will be a maximum six-month wait for such surgery. We have now set targets for angiography. Those targets, together with performance monitoring, shows that we are determined to bear down just as hard on the diagnostic part of the patient journey as on the surgery part. The hon. Gentleman says that targets are not the right way to proceed in the NHS. He will know as well as I do that without targets thousands of people who need heart surgery would not be seen. He knows fine well that clinical priority is always the most important issue for the NHS, but we need to ensure that we make progress at every stage of the patient journey.