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Female Sterilisation

4. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): If he will publish guidelines for NHS trusts about the information to be given to women facing sterilisation operations relating to the chances of failure. [156286]

The Minister for Public Health (Yvette Cooper): The Department of Health funded the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to review and publish guidelines for sterilisation for all its members. The guidelines state clearly that all women should be informed, before a sterilisation operation, that the failure rate is around one in 200.

Fiona Mactaggart: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. My question was inspired by my constituent, Marilyn Kearney, whose daughter Phoebe was born after Marilyn had had a failed sterilisation. She was not properly informed of the one in 200 failure rate; indeed, the person who operated on her thought that it was much lower. Since her plight has been publicised, women throughout the country have been in touch with her to say that they were not informed of the failure rate. What can the Government do to make sure that women undergoing the operation know that they risk a one in 200 chance of it failing, which might influence their decision about whether to proceed?

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is critical that women get full, accurate information before they make such important decisions. The guidelines to which I referred were disseminated to all the members of the royal college and are widely available to the trusts. However, we will pursue with the royal colleges what further measures might be possible to ensure that the guidelines are being adhered to throughout the country.

Mrs. Marion Roe (Broxbourne): Is the Minister aware that I was fortunate in gaining a place in the ballot for private Members' Bills in this Session and that my Bill covers standardised patient consent forms for all patients in the NHS and the independent sector? Does she agree that

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all patients should be given a standardised form, explaining the treatment that they are about to receive and its risks and benefits? Will she support my Bill and its principles?

Yvette Cooper: I certainly support the principles of informed consent for all patients. We are keen to see measures that would improve the information given to patients as well as the counselling and support that they receive. It is not simply about providing patients with written information and particular facts; they must also have the chance to ask questions and to receive proper counselling, especially when they have conditions or face operations for which choices have to be made or where there are alternatives to the treatment that is being offered.

Acute Care (Waiting Times)

5. Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): If he will make a statement on waiting times for acute care. [156287]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Denham): Average waiting times for admission to hospital have fallen to 13 weeks, compared with 15 weeks in June 1998. By the end of 2005, no one will wait more than three months for a routine first out-patient appointment or more than six months for non-urgent admission to hospital under the targets set out in the NHS plan.

Mr. Paterson: In that case, will the Minister please telephone Dr. Ian Rummens, the secretary of my local medical committee, who has said that, despite there being a very mild flu epidemic this winter, it has been impossible to get patients into acute beds in any Shropshire hospital and into hospital in Hereford and Wrexham Maelor? Will the Minister please ring Dr. Rummens and address the question of increasing the number of acute beds?

Mr. Denham: I am not clinically qualified to know whether the hon. Gentleman suffers from amnesia, but he certainly has problems with his memory. About 40,000 hospital beds were lost under the previous Government, and this past winter has been the first for many years in which the number of general and acute beds went up. There were also more critical care beds in the national health service. The statistics for Shropshire show that the number of in-patients on the waiting list has fallen from the peak of 9,635 to 7,200 in February this year.

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster, Central): What can be done to ensure that general practitioners give accurate information to patients about waiting times? I was contacted recently by a number of constituents who complained about how long they had been told they would have to wait for care. When I looked into the matter, I found that the information that they had been given was wildly inaccurate. When I told them that, they felt rather aggrieved and there was perhaps the suspicion that they had been put under pressure to seek private treatment to receive quicker care. What can be done to make sure that GPs provide accurate information to their patients about such matters?

Mr. Denham: I would certainly be very concerned if there was any suggestion that patients had been encouraged

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to go private in those circumstances. We have made it clear to hospital trusts that we wish them to provide local GPs with consultant-specific information about waiting times, so that GPs are able not only to inform their patient correctly and accurately about any likely length of wait but can decide according to the condition of their patient whether to refer to a specific consultant with specific expertise or whether a generic referral to a particular team of consultants might be more appropriate and might involve a shorter wait. We have publicised that guidance over the past year to the NHS, and I will be happy to follow the matter up in my hon. Friend's area to see whether that system is operating. That is the way the problem should be tackled.

Mr. Nick Harvey (North Devon): Given the current concern about the increasing incidence of cases of tuberculosis, with a 50 per cent. rise in London over the past decade, is not the Minister concerned about the waiting times to see thoracic consultants? They have more than doubled since the Government came to office and have gone up fivefold in London. Is not that in no small part due to the fact that we have half as many specialists per head of population as the European average? Although we know that the Government have plans to recruit more doctors and nurses, that will take time. What can the Government do to accelerate the process for this particular speciality?

Mr. Denham: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we have made clear our plans to increase the number of consultants, including thoracic consultants, in the NHS in the years to come. We take TB very seriously. As he knows, there has been a worldwide resurgence in cases of TB, so that is why it is important to expand the capacity of the NHS to deal with the health problems that arise.

The hon. Gentleman referred to London. London, as a region, has already set itself the target of increasing the number of TB-trained nurses, and that is why we are also expanding the number of doctors and nurses across the board.

Mr. Christopher Leslie (Shipley): Is it not true that cutting waiting times depends not only on the availability of consultants, but on having sufficient theatre space and theatre time? Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the extra £116 million invested in Bradford royal infirmary, which serves my constituents, will help to contribute to reduced waiting times in the future?

Mr. Denham: The unprecedented investment that the Government are making in the NHS is enabling us to expand its capacity. I was able to refer earlier to the increased numbers of beds in the NHS, and we have 17,000 more nurses and more than 6,000 more doctors in the NHS. The capital programme that we have under way, which includes the largest ever hospital-building programme in the history of the NHS, will clearly expand operating theatre capacity. Those measures taken together can give us confidence that we will continue to cut the time that it takes people to receive treatment.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): Is the Minister aware that behind the Casualty Watch revelation that the worst wait of all in an accident and emergency unit was at the Kent and Canterbury hospital, is a burgeoning list of

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delays in elective surgery, as reflected in my postbag which has a flood of cases of delayed operations? Are the Government still unwilling to review their plans to spend £102 million reconfiguring buildings in a programme that will provide no extra capacity whatsoever, when half the area's consultants unanimously decided in a meeting to pass a motion saying that there was insufficient capacity to provide decent health care?

Mr. Denham: First, the Government have exceeded their manifesto commitment to cut waiting lists. The in-patient waiting list is 125,000 below the figure that we inherited. As for the Casualty Watch figures, the hon. Gentleman should be a little careful. Two out of the top three cases were kept in the accident and emergency department because of a clinical decision; it was not that no beds were available in the rest of the hospital. The doctors involved made a clinical decision that it was right to keep those patients under observation in the accident and emergency department. It would be wrong to believe that a lack of capacity lay behind their treatment.

Of course I am aware that the proposals for the hon. Gentleman's area are controversial. However, I believe that the Government's investment in them will allow us to deliver a national health service in east Kent of which he can be proud. Controversies often surround such issues. That is why decisions are taken only after careful consultation and consideration.

Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): I suppose that if 50 per cent. are unanimous, the other half take a different view. However, does my right hon. Friend agree that the best way to bring down and keep down waiting lists is to abolish the nonsense of the internal market, to sustain investment in the health service and to modernise it? The only people who can expect to gain from the Conservatives' policies are those who can afford to buy their treatment.

Mr. Denham: My hon. Friend is correct: we need to get our priorities right. One of the Government's priorities has been to save £1 billion from the bureaucracy associated with the internal market and to plough it into patient care so that we can treat more patients. He will be aware that the Conservative party proposes to remove £340 million from the money that is invested to treat people on the waiting list, which would cut something like 310,000 operations for cataracts, hernias, knees, hips and so on. That is music to the ears of those who wish to promote private insurance, but a great concern to his constituents and to mine.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring): In its 1997 manifesto, Labour said that it would take

and cut the cost of bureaucracy. Will the Minister confirm that his Department's figures show that the cost of running the Department of Health has increased by £30 million? Contrary to the impression that he just tried to give the House, the total number of patients waiting--in-patients plus out-patients--has increased by 93,000 in

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England and Wales. Can he spare us the spin for once, admit that the figures are correct and tell us that Labour has failed on both its main pledges?

Mr. Denham: No, I shall not do that because the truth is that, when we were elected in 1997, about which the hon. Gentleman has reminded us, in-patient and out-patient waiting lists were going up. This Government have successfully turned the corner on both those waiting lists. In-patient lists are down by more than we promised in the manifesto and out-patient waiting times are also falling. Over the past year, for the first time since records began, both in-patient and out-patient lists have been falling.

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