§ 11. Mr. Mullin
To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many NHS consultants are on maximum part-time contracts; and if he has any plans to end this practice.
§ Mrs. Virginia Bottomley
A total of 5,172 hospital consultants in England were on maximum part-time contracts on 30 September 1990. There are no plans to end the maximum part-time option, which has existed since the early days of the NHS.
§ Mr. Mullin
On the day on which the Secretary of State gave a pledge to his party conference that everyone would have equal access to free health care, I was contacted by a constituent, Mr. Ronnie Watson, who had been waiting since September 1990 for an appointment with a consultant to discuss a possible hip operation and had just been told that he would have to wait until some unspecified date in 1992.
Mr. Watson had then telephoned the same consultant in the same hospital and had asked how long he would have to wait to be seen privately. The reply was that he could be seen the following Wednesday for a fee of £45. How can the Secretary of State reconcile that experience, which is being replicated all over the country, with the experience of Mr. Watson?
§ Mrs. Bottomley
Even Barbara Castle did not outlaw the arrangement whereby consultants are able to conduct their private practices. The private practice must not in any way impinge on national health service commitments. The patients charter makes it clear that there will be local standards for out-patient appointments, as well as the national standards for general appointments.
We are seeing steady improvements. I very much hope that the hospital to which the hon. Gentleman referred will be able to consolidate further the remarkable progress that it has made over the past couple of years—a 56 per cent. fall in the number of two-year waiters and a 35 per cent. fall in the number of one-year waiters.