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Hospital Waiting Times (England)

Volume 556: debated on Tuesday 15 January 2013

Latest figures for October 2012 show that 70,000 fewer patients are waiting longer than 18 weeks than at the last election. The Government’s mandate to the NHS Commissioning Board makes timely access to services a priority.

Those figures compare extremely well with those in Wales, where most patients are waiting for 26 weeks, and many for 36 weeks. Would the Minister be willing to share some advice on how to get waiting lists down with his counterparts in Wales, and perhaps discuss with them why patients wait so much less time in the Conservative NHS in England than in the socialist NHS in Wales?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight key differences between the NHS in England and in Wales. The Labour-run Assembly in Wales is cutting funding by around 8%, which will—of course—impact on the quality of care available to patients and other front-line services. At the same time, in England we are ensuring that we continue to invest, with £12.5 billion in the NHS during the lifetime of this Parliament. I would be happy to point that out to colleagues in Wales and the Welsh Assembly, and to make the point that it is the Conservatives and the coalition Government who deliver better patient care through investing in the NHS.

Will the Minister tell the House how many NHS trusts failed to meet the accident and emergency target of 95% of people being seen within four hours last week? When was the last time that target was met nationally?

I am happy to inform the hon. Lady that we are meeting the 95% target nationally for the A and E wait. On the most recent figures available, 96% of patients were seen within that period—96 out of every 100 patients are seen within four hours in A and E. The key difference between this Government and the last Labour Government is that we trust clinicians to ensure that they prioritise those patients in greatest need ahead of purely meeting targets and ticking boxes.

As winter bites, the NHS faces its toughest time of year, but there is mounting evidence that the Secretary of State has left it unprepared. For 105 of his 133 days in office, the Government have missed their own A and E target for major A and Es. Last week, for the first time, the figure fell below 90%. Right now in A and Es up and down England, ambulances are stuck in queues outside, patients are on trolleys in corridors, and people are waiting to be seen for hours on end. Does the Minister accept that there is a growing crisis in our A and Es, and if he does, what is he doing about it?

The right hon. Gentleman is good at putting across figures based on brief snapshots in the year. We know that on an annual basis we are meeting the target, and that 96% of patients are being seen on time in A and Es. We have made allowances for winter pressures, which we know are always difficult during the flu season every year, and we have put aside £330 million to ensure that we support the NHS during those winter pressures. Let me make it clear to the right hon. Gentleman that it is wrong to try and distort figures based on outcomes from a snapshot of just a few days or a week. It is important to put across the clear picture, which is that the Government are meeting targets in the NHS and patients are being treated in a much more timely manner than under the previous Government.

I suggest to the Minister that he needs to get out on the ground in the NHS a bit more. The figures I gave him were for major A and Es. If he got out more, he would realise that his complacency, which we have just seen at the Dispatch Box, is not justified. Let us look at Milton Keynes, which was identified by the Care Quality Commission as one of the 17 understaffed hospitals, and where last week just 72% of patients were seen within four hours. Milton Keynes is one of 15 trusts in England where A and E performance plummeted below 80%. These are the kind of figures that we have not seen in the NHS since the bad old days of the mid-1990s. Ministers like to blame nurses, but it is time they started accepting some responsibility. Will the Minister today ensure that all A and Es in England have enough staff to get safely through the winter?

I reassure hon. Members that, unlike any Member on the Opposition Front Bench, I still work in the NHS every week and I ensure that I see what happens on the ground. That cannot be said of any Front-Bench Opposition Member. The coalition has Ministers who are in touch with what is happening in the NHS on the ground. On A and E waits, we are trusting clinicians to exercise their judgment, which is why we now have a 95% target. We are ensuring—and the statistics show—that we are meeting that target on an annual basis. Patients are being treated in a timely manner. Furthermore, we have put in £330 million to deal with winter pressures. It is wrong of the right hon. Gentleman to try and mislead the House in this way—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”]—and use figures from a snapshot in time, rather than in a generality, which would indicate—

Order. Sorry, the Minister needs to withdraw the suggestion that anybody tried to mislead the House. That simply needs to be withdrawn; that is all.

Indeed. I do withdraw that comment, Mr Speaker, and I apologise for saying that there was any deliberate attempt to mislead the House at all. I was simply pointing out the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is highlighting a snapshot in time—

No, no. Order. I must say to the Minister that when a retraction is required, that is what is required and that is all that is required. We move on.