The latest figures show that waiting lists in the northern region have been dropping sharply, from about 50,000 in September 1982 to about 36,000 now. Nine of the 16 districts report continued steady falls. This reflects commendably on all concerned.
I thank my hon. Friend for an answer that is even more encouraging than I expected. Does that not show the success of the Government's initiatives in this area? Will she reassure Conservative Members that the current NHS review will have as its priority the interests, not of NHS staff or professionals, but of the customers, who in some areas are still waiting far too long for the treatment that they deserve?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I am sure he realises that we have been exceptionally helpful to the Darlington health authority, which covers his constituency, by allocating £200,000 this year to help it to clear nearly 1,000 people from its waiting list. That was on top of the £160,000 extra that it received last year.
I note my hon. Friend's remarks at the end of his question, but point out that of those admitted to hospital half are admitted at once and the remainder within seven weeks.
I confess that I did not hear the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question. We remain convinced that a number of hospitals in different parts of the country could use their capacity more productively.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the waiting list figures are hugely encouraging? Will she ensure that the excellent new hospital being built in Kendal, south Cumbria, is completed on time so that those figures can come down even more rapidly?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently laid the foundation stone for that hospital, and we look forward to it continuing its good work. As I am sure my right hon. Friend will know, in south Cumbria the cost per case is well below the national average.
What is the cost to the Northern regional health authority of farming out work to the private sector? —[HON. MEMBERS: Waiting lists."] I understand that the way that the Government have brought down waiting lists is by farming out work to the private sector, and the cost is incredible.
The vast majority of the patients that I have just mentioned have been dealt with in the National Health Service, and we expect that broadly to continue. However, if a health authority finds that it can contract out some of its patients to the private sector, I think that those patients generally are pleased with the result.
Every right hon. and hon. Member in the House is aware of the importance of the northern region. However, will my hon. Friend give the rest of the country a word of encouragement on the vital matter of waiting lists?
I am delighted to do so. In-patient waiting lists for England fell by about 1 per cent. between March and 30 September, and by about 12 per cent. since March 1979. That is a reduction of 90,000.