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8 Jan 2003 : Column 273W—continued


Chris Grayling: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what proportion of ambulance trusts are failing to meet the eight-minute response target. [88745]

Mr. Lammy: The latest information available about the proportion of emergency calls resulting in an ambulance arriving at the scene of the reported incident within the eight-minute response time for all ambulance trusts, is contained in the Department of Health Statistical Bulletin, XAmbulance Services, England 2001–02". A copy of the bulletin is available in the Library and also at

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Chris Grayling: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what changes there have been to average turnaround times by ambulances at accident and emergency units since 1997, broken down by acute trust area. [88355]

Mr. Lammy: Validated information providing complete coverage is not available centrally.

Chris Grayling: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many ambulances are operating in England; and how many operated in each of the past six years. [88746]

Mr. Lammy: The number of accident and emergency ambulances owned or leased by ambulance trusts in England is 2,970. This information was collected in October 2000. No other information is available.

Bed Occupancy

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment his Department has made of the optimal level of bed occupancy to reduce trolley waits for emergency admissions and cancelled operations. [88561]

Mr. Lammy: I refer the hon. Member to the reply I gave to the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) on 19 December 2002, Official Report, column 1039W.

Chris Grayling: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what the Government's target is for occupancy levels in (a) general and (b) acute NHS beds; and what the levels were in 1997. [87533]

Mr. Hutton: The Department has not issued any specific guidance on bed occupancy. As part of routine capacity planning each national health service trust needs to establish the levels of occupancy required for different specialties and types of care depending on their own particular circumstances. Appropriate levels of occupancy will depend on a number of factors including specialty, the balance between emergency and planned admissions and the size of the hospital.

In 1996–97 the bed occupancy level for general and acute NHS beds was 80.7 per cent. Over the last two years, the number of beds have increased, reversing a 40 year decline.

Cancelled Operations

Chris Grayling: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many people have had operations cancelled on more than two occasions in each of the past three years. [88769]

Mr. Hutton: Figures are collected on a quarterly basis on the number of patients whose operations are cancelled by the hospital for non-clinical reasons on the day of surgery and at the last minute, that is on the day patients are due to arrive or after arrival in hospital or on the day of their operation. This information is available in the Library and on the Department of Health website at: requests/cancelled operations.htm

These figures are not broken down to show whether a patient has been cancelled by the hospital more than once.

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Children's Vision

Andy Burnham: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what steps he is taking to (a) implement a programme of vision screening among children with hearing impairments; and (b) ensure consistent access in different areas to specialist eye examinations for children with hearing impairments; [88580]

Mr. Lammy [holding answer 7 January 2003]: The provision of vision screening programmes is a matter for local primary care trusts to consider in accordance with professional advice. This includes vision screening for children with hearing impairments and ensuring access to specialist eye examinations. The national screening committee recommends that all infants and children with a hearing loss should have an expert eye examination as a matter of routine. A national service framework for children, which will set standards aimed at raising the quality of the health and social care services that children receive, is currently under development. Information is not collected centrally on the amount of public funding allocated to raising awareness of vision screening and eligibility for free sight tests—which includes all children under the age of 16 and those aged under 19 in fulltime education.

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Mr. Pope: To ask the Secretary of State for Health during the last year for which figures are available, how many letters from hon. Members were replied to (a) within six months, (b) within six to nine months, (c) within nine to 12 months and (d) in over 12 months; and what was the average time taken by ministers in the Department to reply to hon. Members' correspondence in that period. [87051]

Mr. Lammy: The information is shown in the table.

PeriodNumber of letters
(a) Within six months15,080
(b) Within 6–9 months489
(c) Between 9–12 months205
(d) Over 12 months74
Average time to reply for the 12 month period:44.8 days

A Customer Service Project has been set up under the Department's change programme. The aim of this project is to significantly improve the Department's performance in handling telephone, written and e-mail inquiries from members of the public and their representatives and to maximise the potential of the Department's website and other forms of communication media.

Dental Surgeons

Mr. Gareth Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what estimate he has made of the number of vacancies for dental surgeons. [87425]

Mr. Hutton: The data requested is shown in the table.

Department of health vacancies survey, March 2002. Vacancies in NHS trusts, consultant dental group of specialties 3 month vacancy rates, number and staff in post—England (excluding HA staff)

3 month vacancy
Rate (percentage)NumberStaff in post(6)Staff in post(7)
Total consultants dental group4.522473582
Of which:
Oral and maxillo-facial surgery2.25222255
Restorative dentistry0.005786
Paediatric dentistry6.311524
Additional dental specialties15.863247
Oral surgery(8)(8)(8)(8)

(6) Whole-time equivalent

(7) Headcount

(8) Figures where sum of staff in post and vacancies is less than 10.


1. Three month vacancy information is as at 31 March 2002.

2. Three month vacancies are vacancies which trusts are actively trying to fill, which had lasted for three months or more (whole time equivalents).

3. Three month vacancy rates are three month vacancies expressed as a percentage of three month vacancies plus staff in post.

4. Three month vacancy rates are calculated using staff in post from the Vacancy Survey and the Consultant Census, March 2002.

5. Staff in post data is from the Mini Consultant Census, March 2002.

6. Staff in post data excludes staff employed by health authorities, as vacancy information was only collected from trusts, PCTs and special health authorities.

7. Medical and dental figures exclude staff in training.

8. Vacancy and staff in post numbers are rounded to the whole number.

9. Percentages are rounded to one decimal place.

10. —= figures where sum of staff in post and vacancies is zero

11. Calculating the vacancy rates using the above data may not equal the actual vacancy rates.

12. HA figures are based on trusts, and do not necessarily reflect the geographical provision of healthcare.

13. Figures may not match previously published data due to a different method of rounding used on the staff in post data.


Vacancy numbers and rates: Department of Health Vacancies Survey March 2002 and Consultant census March 2002.

Medical and dental staff in post: Department of Health Consultant census March 2002

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