Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Health Spending

8. Mr. Michael Portillo (Kensington and Chelsea): What plans he has to increase the proportion of gross domestic product spent on health to the average EU level. [106245]

17. Mr. Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South): What plans he has to raise NHS spending as a percentage of gross domestic product to the level of the United Kingdom's European partners. [106254]

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Alan Milburn): As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made clear to the House on 19 January, we are entirely confident that we will be able to sustain increases in funding for the health service to reach the European Union average.

Mr. Portillo: Do the Government accept that they have disappointed the public because they have promised too much and achieved too little? Did not the Prime Minister make another promise on "Breakfast with Frost", when he said that he would bring UK health spending up to the European Union average? Does the Secretary of State agree that we are now spending less than 6 per cent. of national income on the health service, and that the European average is 8.8 per cent? Will the right hon. Gentleman be specific about which average the Government are aiming for, and over what period of time they will achieve it?

Mr. Milburn: Welcome to Health questions. If my memory serves me right, the right hon. Gentleman was Chief Secretary to the Treasury for a substantial period during the previous Government's time in office. If anyone is responsible for our funding lagging behind the European Union average, it is he and his cronies.

Mr. Simpson: It would have been nice if the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) had prefaced his question with an apology to the House. However, in the absence of that apology, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the £11 billion spending shortfall between the UK and our European partners is the real legacy of Tory tax transfers, from public health services to private wealth holders, which took place throughout the Tory Administration? Will he also confirm that the Department of Health has evidence to show that, irrespective of other reasons for admittance to hospital, about 40 per cent. of adults and 15 per cent. of children are admitted because they are classed as malnourished? Is not that a scandalous way to start the 21st century? Does not that fact alone justify my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's commitment to restore UK health spending to the European average?

Mr. Milburn: My hon. Friend is right. It is clear that we must do two things: we must expand the national health service to ensure that it is there when patients need it and, equally significantly, we must tackle the root causes of ill health. The Government have pledged to do

1 Feb 2000 : Column 897

what no previous Government, Labour or Conservative, have ever pledged to do--to improve the overall health of the population, and to improve the health of the worst off at a faster rate.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford): Has the Secretary of State seen the report published last week by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, which looked at the Prime Minister's pledge to raise health spending to the EU average? It predicted that such a rise would cause a 2 per cent. fall in manufacturing output, a permanent 1 per cent. increase in the inflation rate, and expose the economy to sudden and massive increases in taxation.

Mr. Milburn: I was going to say that I am slightly confused, but it is the hon. Gentleman and his party who are confused. Just a few weeks ago, Conservative spokesmen were professing support for what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was saying. Our position on this matter is clear: we know that we need to expand resources for the national health service. and that is precisely what we are doing. The question is where the Conservatives stand on the issue. They stand for more private health insurance--more subsidies for the few rather than public services for the many.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the biggest increase in costs in the health budget has been the 35 per cent. increase in the cost of drugs over the past 10 years? Does he further agree that the Government, by setting up the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, have already established a great improvement because they have exposed the fact that the vastly overpriced drug Relenza not only has very little effect on the symptoms of influenza, but has a serious side effect on vulnerable patients? Is it not right that the Government look with new rigour at the greedy propaganda of the drug companies?

Mr. Milburn: I do not want to comment on Relenza, because the drug company itself has done so and has issued what is, in my view, appropriate guidance to the national health service. Just a few weeks ago, Conservative Members were urging us to reverse the NICE decision on Relenza. Well, thank heavens we did not listen to them.

I am sorry to disappoint my hon. Friend on some of the issues that he raised, but I am not one of those who believes that the national health service should be spending less on drugs. I believe that probably we should be spending more on drugs if we can prove that the new drugs coming on to the market are clinically effective, cost effective and will in very many cases replace more invasive and expensive forms of treatment. That is good for patients and, overall, it is probably a good deal for the taxpayer.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge): As the Secretary of State was unable to give any firm commitments to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) on European Union averages of gross domestic product spending, perhaps we can look closer to home.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that national health service spending in Scotland is approximately 7.5 per cent. of GDP, compared with 5.9 per cent.

1 Feb 2000 : Column 898

in England and Wales? In other words, the Government spend more than £900 per head on the NHS in Scotland, compared with £746 per head in England and Wales. As the First Minister boasted last week to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, in Scotland there are 51 consultants per 100,000 of the population, compared with 39 in England; there are 75 general practitioners per 100,000 of the population, compared with 56 in England; and there are 808 nurses per 100,000 of the population compared with 620 in England. Should the people of England and Wales be prepared to put up with that? Are the Government prepared to accept that? If not, why did the comprehensive spending review settlement widen rather than narrow the gap?

Mr. Milburn: If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about these apparent differentials between spending in England, Wales and Scotland, why did his Government not do something about them for 18 years?


9. Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley): If he will make a statement on the progress of the meningitis vaccination programme. [106246]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Yvette Cooper): The introduction of the new meningitis C vaccine is progressing very well--immunisation for 15 to 17-years-olds is largely completed, and babies have been receiving the vaccine since November. We are on target to offer the vaccine to everyone under 18 by the end of the year. We are the first country in the world to have introduced a national programme for the new meningitis C vaccine, and we are implementing it a year ahead of schedule.

Judy Mallaber: I warmly thank the Department of Health and the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), for providing the new strain C vaccine, in advance of the full immunisation programme, to the village of Ironville in my constituency. It has, tragically, suffered a uniquely high incidence of meningitis, with a so far unexplained series of outbreaks over the past three years.

Will my hon. Friend note that four of the five confirmed strain C cases in Ironville--including the last death, Colin Whitehead--could be confirmed only by the polymerase chain reaction test, and that that also applies to 53 per cent. of the cases in southern Derbyshire?

I understand that only through using that test can the necessary evidence be found on which to base proper medical intervention, as has happened in Ironville. Will my hon. Friend undertake to consider the policies of the Public Health Laboratory Service on future charges for PCR tests and assess their potential impact on the control of this absolutely terrifying disease?

Yvette Cooper: I welcome my hon. Friend's concern about this issue. She has worked extremely hard on the problems it has caused in her constituency. I am aware of the point she makes about the PCR test; we want to ensure that people working in the field have access to that

1 Feb 2000 : Column 899

important test. I shall raise the issue with the PHLS. Officials have already held meetings with the service and I shall do so in March.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Will the Minister assist in the cases of older young people--especially those in their late 20s? We heard of the tragic case of the young rugby player who went to hospital and was, regrettably, misdiagnosed, with fatal consequences. If there was sufficient evidence that those people would also benefit from the vaccine, would the Government consider extending the vaccination programme to that older group?

Yvette Cooper: Certainly, we will take advice about other groups from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. At present, we are on target to immunise everyone aged under 18. The situation is unusual because we are rolling out a new vaccination programme as quickly as possible. In those circumstances, we are obviously prioritising those groups that are at the highest risk.

Next Section

IndexHome Page