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House of Commons

Tuesday 11 November 1997

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--

National Health Service (Funding)

1. Mr. Todd: How much extra money has been made available to the Trent NHS region over the winter period. [13741]

2. Jane Griffiths: How much extra money has been made available for the NHS since 1 May. [13809]

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Frank Dobson): Since 1 May, the new Government, as part of their commitment to establishing a reliable and modern health service, have provided an additional £1.5 billion to the national health service--an extra £1.2 billion for next year and an extra £300 million for this winter. In the Trent region, £16 million extra has been provided for this winter to help with emergencies and restrain the rise in waiting lists.

Mr. Todd: I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer, which will be welcome in my constituency. I hope that it will be possible to provide a breakdown of that expenditure to health authority level in the near future. Is my right hon. Friend aware that I met representatives of my local health authority shortly before his very welcome announcement and that they expressed concern about the mounting crisis this winter? I am sure that the money will be very well spent in our area.

Mr. Dobson: I can assure my hon. Friend that we will publish a detailed breakdown of the extra £16 million that is being provided to help the health service in the Trent region this winter. It is intended to help with emergencies and to finance local social services in taking steps to prevent old people from having to go into hospital unnecessarily and to take people out of hospital when, from their point of view and everyone else's, they are better off at home.

Jane Griffiths: Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the announcement of the allocation of £73 million for the consolidation of the Royal Berkshire and Battle hospitals in my constituency--a project that

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was first discussed 67 years ago and on which almost nothing has been done for the past 18 years because of Tory inaction?

Mr. Dobson: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We very much welcome the commitment to the new hospital for Reading that has just been announced and the new hospital for Sheffield that was announced last week in addition to the 15 new hospital projects that we announced under the private finance initiative that we inherited from the previous Government. All they did was keep announcing that they would build new hospitals, but they never actually got around to it.

Mr. Hogg: Does the Secretary of State accept that, within the Trent region, there is particular concern about Grantham hospital because of the proposals by Lincolnshire health authority that will have a damaging effect on the paediatric department and other departments in that hospital? My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies) is particularly concerned about the matter. Does the Secretary of State accept that, should an appeal to him be successful, he may have to make additional funds available to Grantham hospital? Will he please make a reservation in his own mind now against that possibility?

Mr. Dobson: The right hon. and learned Gentleman has made representations about Grantham hospital, as has the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Mr. Davies). I understand that the proposal will be passed to me by the people whom his Government appointed to run Lincolnshire health authority. I await the opportunity to adjudicate on their ideas.

Mr. Quentin Davies: The Secretary of State is wrong, because the chief executive of Lincolnshire health authority, whom the previous Government appointed, is now--I am glad to say--leaving his post, and is being replaced by Mr. Jeavons, a new appointee by the present Government.

May I reinforce the points already made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), because it is important that the future of the Grantham hospital is considered as a whole? We do not want decisions on individual units--in this case, the paediatric unit--to prejudice future decisions about other elements of the hospital. I therefore ask the Secretary of State to turn down the request to close the paediatric ward at Grantham hospital, pending consultation on the future of all the units, including paediatrics, gynaecology, obstetrics and accident and emergency. The future of Grantham as a general hospital is at stake.

Mr. Dobson: The first requirement is that the interests of the people presently served by Grantham hospital should continue to be served, and that they have a modern and reliable health service to deliver the health care that they want. However, that has to be considered in the light of the other obligations on the rest of the health service in Lincolnshire; as I understand it, that is the proposition that will eventually come to me. I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming one of the changes that Labour is making in the membership of health authorities and

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trusts. In view of some ignorant suggestions, I am always glad to welcome congratulations from the Opposition on the improvement in personnel that we are making.

Mr. Jim Marshall: I also thank my right hon. Friend for the additional financial resources that will come to Leicestershire this year and next. Will my right hon. Friend guarantee that, in the review of the formulae for distributing the funds nationally, he will ensure that underfunded areas such as Leicestershire receive their due reward in coming years?

Mr. Dobson: I can make two clear points. First, the allocation that we have recently announced better reflects clinical need and deprivation than did the formulae used by the previous Government. Secondly, and contrary to much scaremongering by Opposition Members, the new formulae involve an element of rurality, so that areas with sparser populations do not suffer. I realise that that does not apply to the city of Leicester, but I expect that Leicester will benefit from the changes that I have mentioned.

Solihull Hospital

3. Mr. John M. Taylor: If he will pay an official visit to Solihull hospital to discuss local health provision. [13810]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Paul Boateng): I have no plans to visit Solihull hospital, but I will conduct an official visit to Birmingham Heartlands and Solihull NHS Trust in the near future. I am looking forward to it enormously.

Mr. Taylor: The Minister will be welcome when he comes to Solihull. Contrary to what the Secretary of State had to say, the previous Government gave my constituency a magnificent new state-of-the-art hospital. The Minister of State has recently vouchsafed to me in a written answer the range of services provided by that hospital. I hope that, when the Minister visits Solihull, he will be able to say that that range of services will be sustained for the benefit of my constituents and, perhaps, that other services will be added.

Mr. Boateng: The NHS in Solihull is certainly safe in our hands: I am not so sure that it was safe in the hands of the previous Government.

National Health Service (Funding)

4. Caroline Flint: What action he is taking to cut waste in the national health service. [13811]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. Alan Milburn): On 22 May, we announced a programme of measures to reduce management costs by £100 million this year. Our efficiency task force has identified savings of £40 million. As part of our plans to replace the internal market, we are looking at the scope for further savings from bureaucracy.

Caroline Flint: I thank my hon. Friend for that response. In Doncaster alone last year, 60,000 people did not turn up for their appointments, thus leaving empty

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seats in waiting rooms in hospitals. I am sure that that situation is reflected across the country. We all have a responsibility to ensure that we appreciate the resources of the NHS, because the money wasted by people not turning up could fund important projects, such as the breast cancer clinic and Jasmine centre in Doncaster.

Mr. Milburn: My hon. Friend is quite right to say that with the right that patients have to access to NHS services comes the responsibility to use those services wisely. The Government will be seeking to learn the lessons from best practice, particularly in areas like "did not attends". The efficiency task force will be looking specifically at this area, and we intend to bear down on bureaucracy and waste and to invest more in front-line patient services.

Mr. Soames: Will the Minister look with care at the programme of savings instituted in the Ministry of Defence by the former Chief Secretary, which was extremely successful in looking at the non-core business and work of the MoD and seeing whether that work could be contracted out or done better by other people? The considerable savings from "Front Line First" were ploughed back into the front line. Will he look at such a programme and not dismiss it out of hand, as there is real scope for substantial savings?

Mr. Milburn: As the hon. Gentleman knows, what counts for this Government is what works. The efficiency task force will look to ensure that, in future, we will pool together where possible the functions currently provided by NHS trusts. If it is possible to bear down on administration functions and to cut waste, we will do so. I am sure that all hon. Members will back the Government's manifesto commitment to ensure that resources go to front-line patient services.

Mrs. Anne Campbell: Does my hon. Friend share my concern at recent press reports of waste within the national blood transfusion service, and particularly the waste of blood products donated freely for use by NHS patients?

Mr. Milburn: As my hon. Friend is aware, a review is taking place of the successes--and some of the failures--of the blood transfusion service. That review will report shortly.

Mr. Simon Hughes: In the Government's campaign against waste in the health service--which we fully support--will they make sure that NHS trusts and civil servants get the message that projects which are wasteful of taxpayers' money and time and which duplicate perfectly good existing resources will not be approved? When Ministers come to their conclusions about the London review, will they make sure that approval is not given to the spending of between £100 million and £200 million of taxpayers' charitable money on building a new hospital across the river on the St. Thomas's site when £200 million has been spent on building a new hospital on the Guy's site, and when it is proposed that 18 floors of the Guy's hospital buildings will be left empty?

Mr. Milburn: I would not want to prejudge the outcome of the Turnberg review of London's health

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services, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that all projects--particularly capital projects--will be judged to ensure that they provide maximum value for money for patients and the taxpayer.

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