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Fourthly, the Government are committed to improving health and social care services for older people. Standards of care must rise, access to care must improve and nursing care in nursing homes must be free on the NHS. The health and social care Bill will mean that people who are assessed as needing nursing care will no longer have to pay for the care and supervision provided by registered nurses in nursing homes or for specialist nursing equipment, thereby lifting the burden of care costs for about 35,000 people.
Fifthly, to complement the biggest hospital-building programme in the history of the NHS, the Bill will take forward the biggest ever capital programme of investment in primary care. Family doctor premises are the first port of call for most patients. Many of the premises are in urgent need of repair. Through a new joint venture company with the private sector, the NHS local improvement finance trust--NHS LIFT--the Bill will unlock £1 billion of new investment to refurbish 3,000 family doctor surgeries and primary care premises by 2004. NHS LIFT will have the greatest impact in those areas where it has traditionally been hardest to attract investment or GPs. It will deliver new health service facilities that are fit for this new century to the most deprived communities and rural areas.
Dr. Fox: The Secretary of State makes an important point about the improvement of GPs' premises, especially in inner cities. He will be well aware that one of the difficulties most often encountered is with planning problems for those surgeries. What talks has he had with the Deputy Prime Minister about easing the path of such plans?
Mr. Milburn: The hon. Gentleman is right--there are sometimes planning difficulties with new surgeries and, indeed, new primary care centres. In that context, we are not simply concerned with the traditional GP surgery. We should try to house in a single centre services that are provided by GPs, nurses, midwives and social workers for a simple reason--to make care easier and faster for the people who take advantage of those services. So, yes, discussions are taking place between my Department and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.
Moreover, the measures that we are taking to encourage, for example, personal medical services in general practices mean that those very real gaps in provision that occur particularly in the hardest hit inner-city areas are finally beginning to be plugged. I know from the discussions I had when I was in Sunderland recently that that city has real problems,
More investment is going into the NHS and more reforms are being made. The Conservatives cannot match that investment, although they claim that they can. The Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor claimed just this week that they would match Labour's expenditure on the NHS and on health more generally. That is not what the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin), the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, told Jeremy Paxman on "Newsnight" on Tuesday. In response to a question, the hon. Gentleman said of spending cuts:
There is a further issue that the hon. Member for Woodspring will perhaps clarify when he replies. Are he and his party now saying that they will match our spending on social services? His is the party that complains about care home numbers, bed blocking and delayed discharges. Let us hear from the hon. Gentleman. Let there be urgent discussions on the Opposition Treasury Bench. Are the Conservatives backing our 3.4 per cent. real-terms increase in social services funding--yes or no? That is what the country and the House want to know.
The truth is that the Conservatives cannot match our spending because their tax and spending policies are riddled with black holes from top to toe. The Conservatives cannot explain where the money is coming from to fill the £400 million black hole created by their failure to support us on putting extra tobacco revenue directly into the NHS. They had an opportunity to vote for that; they did not. They cannot explain where the money is coming from to fill the £750 million black hole created by their policies of tax subsidies for people who already have private medical insurance.
The only answer is that the £1 billion black hole will be filled at the expense of the NHS, its patients and its staff. There will be fewer beds, fewer nurses and fewer doctors. As sure as night follows day, that is the Conservatives' cuts guarantee for the NHS, and NHS
Just in case the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), who is shaking his head, thinks that that was just a passing fancy, he should consider what the shadow Chancellor told the "Today" programme on 30 October. He confirmed that a future Conservative Government would expect
There are choices before the country: the stop-go of the past or the stability and growth of today; cuts in public services or investment in public services; the old social divisions of the past or a society providing opportunity for all and so able to demand responsibility from all. Nowhere are the choices starker than in the NHS. In the end, it all comes down to this: with the current Government, an NHS modernised and reformed providing care according to need, not according to ability to pay; or, with the Conservatives, a health care system in which how much one pays, how much one earns, how much one is worth determines the health care one receives. That might be the Conservative future for Britain, but it is a future that neither the Labour party nor the British people will support.
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring): I must have made something of an error in thinking--until now--that the Government were in their fourth winter, not their fourth week, of managing the NHS. The Secretary of State has just easily shrugged off all of Labour's mismanagement of the national health service since the party entered office and all of the promises that Labour made before entering
I suppose that all that has nothing to do with the Secretary of State or with the Government--it has everything to do with everyone else whom they normally blame, but nothing to do with them. In all my political life, I have never known a group of people take so little responsibility for their own actions. They are happy to take the salaries, but not any of the responsibility.
The Labour Government's failure to deliver on the exaggerated expectations with which they entered office has given rise to a great amount of cynicism among the electorate. The string of broken promises has resulted in unparalleled disillusionment. We all remember the slogans: "24 hours to save the NHS", "Health to be an early priority" and "Things can only get better". According to Lord Hunt this summer, things had got better. He said that
Increasingly, there is a gap between the rhetoric of Ministers, who keep telling us that things have become better, and the reality experienced by doctors and nurses who are working in the NHS and patients who use the NHS. Ministers tell us that waiting lists are down, but the waiting list to go on the waiting list has rocketed, so more patients are waiting. They tell us that more operations are being carried out, but last week an orthopaedic surgeon from one of the London hospitals told me that he was told to stop doing so many hip replacement operations and to do more minor operations because that would reduce the list faster.