In-patient waiting lists in Gwent fell from 8,842 to 7,705 between March 1986 and March 1987. The number of in-patients treated increased by 32·4 per cent. between 1979 and 1986. Much remains to be done, and Gwent health authority is actively working on the problem in conjunction with the Welsh Office.
The people of Gwent will give little thanks for that rather complacent reply. One out of six is not good enough. In the other categories of waiting lists in Gwent, there has been an increase in those of urgent cases; in urgent cases waiting for more than a month; and in non-urgent cases waiting for more than a year. The total number of out-patients who are waiting has increased, as has that of out-patients waiting for more than three months. That follows a special effort by the Welsh Office to reduce waiting lists to acceptable levels.
Does the Minister recognise that the Health Service in Gwent is locked into a spiral of decline, caused by the burden placed on it by a 20 per cent. increase in work with only a 5 per cent. increase in resources? The Gwent area health authority also faces a special burden of paying locally the capital cost of rebuilding the Royal Gwent hospital—money that is funded centrally elsewhere in Wales.
The system under which the area health authorities have operated for their capital funding has been the same for all since 1984. Gwent has been well funded. Incidentally, it is worth pointing out that median waiting times for in-patients in Wales have fallen from 47 days to 42 days under this Government. The waiting list for in-patients in Gwent has fallen by more than 1,100 to March of this year.
Mr. Alan Williams:
Does the Minister realise that the people of Wales, as well as the people of Gwent, are concerned about the length of waiting lists? As the Minister responsible for health in Wales, is he proud that we now have the lowest number of hospital beds since the Health Service was set up in 1948, that we have fewer beds in relation to population than Scotland or Northern Ireland, and that we have longer waiting lists than Scotland or Northern Ireland? In those circumstances, does it make sense that, in the past 18 months, we have lost 700 hospital beds in Wales, several hospitals are now under threat of closure and our already overstretched health authorities face £6 million of cuts by the end of the year?
The right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), who went on at great length, overlooked the fact that it is a matter not of having beds available, but of how many patients one treats. It is worth pointing out that when he was a Minister the number of in-patient places in Wales rose by 3 per cent., but under this Government the number has risen by 24 per cent. or 84,000 every year. Out-patient treatment fell by 3 per cent. under the previous Labour Administration, but has risen by 18 per cent. under this Government.