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Leeds: Orthopaedic Waiting List

Volume 448: debated on Wednesday 22 February 1984

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2.55 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they are prepared to take to remedy the situation reported in the Yorkshire Evening Post on 1st February, whereby in the Leeds Western Health District the present orthopaedic waiting list of 476 patients will take seven years to clear.

My Lords, Leeds Western Health Authority are responsible for the pattern and delivery of health services within their boundaries. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services announced the distribution of resources to regional health authorities in early January, and particular emphasis was laid on the need to develop services for joint replacement. Leeds Western Health Authority have set up a series of meetings to consider action to reduce the orthopaedic waiting list. I understand that it is hoped this year to adapt a ward at Chapel Allerton Hospital which can be earmarked as the initial base there for the orthopaedic specialty.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for that reply. Is the Minister aware that between Leeds Western area and Leeds Eastern area there are almost 1,300 people on the orthopaedic list awaiting surgery? Even on the basis of the most optimistic forecasts that have been made, many of those people will be on the list for far too long, and certainly for a length of time that could not be considered tolerable. Will the Minister press the regional health authority to make resources available so that the Leeds area health authorities can deal with this matter in a satisfactory manner?

My Lords, representatives of the Leeds Western Health District management team have been discussing the issue with the orthopaedic surgeons. It is recognised that an increase in the number of elderly in the population and in the demand for joint replacement and other procedures, has maintained a pressure on orthopaedic beds. The national increase of 30 per cent. in total hip replacements between 1978 and 1981 is an illustration of that pressure. But the district management team has offered the services of a senior registrar in community medicine to work closely with the surgeons to find a means of alleviating the pressure. This has been accepted by them. As I have already mentioned, the possibility of Chapel Allerton Hospital is also being considered.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reference to the increased facilities that may be made available at Chapel Allerton. Is he also aware that a decision is about to be taken as to whether to keep the Margarita Hepton Hospital at Wetherby open or not? If this hospital is closed—and it caters for a lot of post-operative orthopaedic patients—it will have a further detrimental effect on the services. Will the noble Lord try, if possible, to influence a favourable decision regarding that hospital?

My Lords, this is essentially a local matter and not one in which I could intervene at this moment. The fact is that if Chapel Allerton is to be opened in the way that I suggested it might be, then of course funding will be dependent upon the release of revenue from elsewhere. But I do not think that it would be right for me to talk any further about the Margarita Hepton Hospital, to which the noble Lord referred.

My Lords, if the figures given in the noble Lord's Question are even approximately correct, do they not indicate that no time should be lost in introducing a measure of chiropractic help in dealing with cases of this nature? There should be no further delay. There has been enough delay hitherto. I should like to know what my noble friend has in mind as regards this particular angle.

My Lords, I am well aware of my noble friend's interest in chiropractic, and I share many of his views, but I am not sure that a waiting list like the one referred to in the Question would be cut if it were possible to recognise chiropractic. First, it is by no means clear that the people awaiting in-patient admission in Leeds need or are seeking the type of help which chiropractors offer, because one of the many problems that they are there for involve hip replacements. Secondly, there are relatively few chiropractors in the country and there is no certainty that they would wish to work in the way in which the noble Lord hopes that they might.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the situation described by my noble friend Lord Dean of Beswick is not just a Leeds problem, but is common across the country, as my noble friend Lord Wallace said on an earlier Question? Is the noble Lord aware that when his Government came to office in 1979 they made a commitment to reduce the hospital waiting lists, yet in fact they are very substantially higher than at the time when the present Government came in? According to the latest figures available from his department, they are up to 726,186. Would the noble Lord agree that that is the highest they have ever been since the health service was established? Is the noble Lord also aware that 65 per cent. of urgent cases have been on the waiting list for more than a month? Would he not agree that this is an appalling situation?

My Lords, I do not think that it is nearly as bad as the noble Lord makes out. During the period of the last Labour Government the total number of NHS patients waiting for in-patient admission rose from 508,390 in June 1974 to a peak of 752,422 in March 1979.

My Lords, the noble Lord really must not twist the situation. I have the figures, which were given to me by his own department, and so I know precisely what the figures were in 1979, in 1980, in 1981, in 1982 and in 1983. Will the noble Lord confirm that the figures available from his own department for 1983 show a substantially higher waiting list than that which existed even in 1939, when the Labour Government went out of office?

My Lords. I certainly do not have figures with me that go back to 1939, but I can tell—

My Lords, I thought that the noble Lord said 1939; if he said 1979, then I misheard him and I apologise. However, the fact is that the total number of NHS patients awaiting in-patient admission is lower, at 726,186, at 31st March 1983 than it was in March 1979.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that my information is that the assistance of chiropractic would greatly reduce the backlash of these waiting lists, and that considerable financial savings could accrue to the National Health Service if these facilities were used?

My Lords, with respect the whole subject of chiropractic and professions of that sort is rather a different matter. If my noble friend would like to put down an Unstarred Question on the subject, I should certainly do my best to answer it.