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Diagnostic Testing

Volume 450: debated on Tuesday 24 October 2006

9. What the average waiting time was for patients requiring diagnostic tests in England in the latest period for which figures are available. (95968)

The average waiting time for the 15 key diagnostic tests on which we collect monthly data was five and a half weeks for patients waiting at the end of August—down from seven weeks in January, when the NHS first started collecting diagnostic data.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Everyone connected with Staffordshire general hospital has performed magnificently in the past couple of years to reduce long waits for diagnostic tests such as MRI scans. However, managers have told me that there is still an enormous challenge if they are to meet the Government’s ambitious target for 2008 of a maximum wait of 18 weeks from GP surgery to operating theatre. Will my hon. Friend tell me—and, through me, those managers—about the support available over the next 12 months to make sure that waits for diagnostic tests are not the weak point in that very ambitious target?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I, too, pay tribute to the staff of Staffordshire hospital, who have worked to make the health service the high-quality service that the people of Stafford have the right to expect. As for the specific question of imaging scans, from April 2006, people who do not receive an appointment within 20 weeks are offered the choice of a scan from another provider within that period. We are driving the system to ensure that there is a guaranteed minimum standard. The great prize for the national health service is the historic 18-week target from the door of the GP surgery to the door of the operating theatre. The achievement of that target would be the greatest manifestation of a modern health service, and it would effectively mean the ending of waiting lists in the NHS. We will ensure that our staff receive all the necessary support to enable us to deliver that historic goal.

Is the Minister concerned that the independent orthopaedic treatment centre in my constituency is not conducting diagnostic tests or, indeed, any tests on people who live on their own or do not have a telephone? That is clear discrimination against the single elderly and the poor, and it is a double whammy because, instead of being treated in Banbury, as in the past, the single elderly and people without telephones, who tend to be poorer members of the community, have to go to Oxford. That is disgraceful cherry-picking by those independent treatment centres, and the Minister and the Government should be ashamed.

If the health service was entirely independent I would not be able to intervene. However, that is not the case, so I shall certainly look into the concerns that the hon. Gentleman has raised, speak to the relevant health managers and strategic health authority, and write to him with a response.