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What recent estimate he has made of the monetary value of medical aids issued to patients by hospitals and not returned in the latest period for which figures are available.
As my hon. Friend knows, NHS patients are provided with NHS aids free of charge and requested to return them when they are no longer required. Obviously the cost of recovery must be weighed against the cost of the items being lent, but it is the responsibility of the local NHS to monitor the position and arrange for the recovery of medical aids when that is safe and cost-effective.
For many years the experience of my constituents, and indeed my own family, has been that hospitals often provide patients with, for example, crutches, without ever asking for them back. I accept that this is a matter for the management of local hospitals, but does my hon. Friend agree that the Department has an interest in ensuring value for taxpayers' money, and that the medical aids involved could be used by other patients who need them?
I agree. One always hopes that people will act responsibly, and that they or their families will return medical aids. My hon. Friend may know that Bedford hospital has organised a scheme for the collection of aids, and that a number of voluntary organisations are also involved. However, the cost of collection and decontamination or cleansing is sometimes greater than the cost of the equipment itself. Crutches, for instance, cost between £11 and £20. Such is life today.