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Patient Outcomes

Volume 531: debated on Tuesday 12 July 2011

I am committed to ensuring that the NHS achieves improved outcomes for patients. The NHS outcomes framework will drive continuous improvement in those outcomes. By way of example, we have made good progress in reducing the number of health care associated infections. In the year ending March 2011 the number of MRSA bloodstream infections decreased by 22% and clostridium difficile infections decreased by 15%, compared with the year before. Those are key positive results in the drive to protect patients from avoidable harm.

I applaud the Minister for his work in those areas, and I draw attention to the increased work in cancer care, which I also applaud. However, may I ask him to assure the House that he will not lose focus on other areas, such as mental health, and that the Government will continue to address problems in those areas, which have such consequences across the country?

I certainly will. Indeed, the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), and I launched the outcomes strategy for mental health earlier this year, in order to make it absolutely clear that across the NHS, and indeed public health, we ensure that mental health services attract the right priority and focus as we develop outcome measures.

The Prime Minister has promised that waiting times will not rise despite his massive NHS reorganisation, but we now know that in May 15,500 patients waited more than six weeks for their diagnostic tests—four times as many as last year—and that 1,800 waited more than three months, which is 10 times as many as last year. Average waits for diagnostic tests are also up. Does the Minister agree with the Royal College of Physicians that those increased waits, including waits for vital tests to diagnose cancer, will harm patient care: yes or no?

No, we have met the standard that patients should not wait longer than 18 weeks—a 90% standard for admitted patients and 95% for non-admitted patients. If I recall correctly, the latest data for diagnostic tests showed that there was a 1.9 week average wait for diagnostic tests, which compares with 1.8 weeks in May last year. On cancer waiting times we have achieved an improvement—up to 96%—in the number of patients who are seen by a specialist within two weeks. The hon. Lady really needs to go back and talk to her colleagues in Wales, where 26% of patients wait longer than 18 weeks, compared with less than 10% of patients here; indeed, many patients in Wales wait more than 36 weeks. We have a contrast between a coalition Government in England who are investing in the health service, with improving performance, and a Labour Government in Wales who are cutting the NHS budget and seeing performance decline.