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Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): Does the Secretary of State understand that, although his promise of new facilities at Kidderminster looks like a pretty straightforward bribe to save the Wyre Forest seat at the next election, it should still be good news for many of my constituents in Worcestershire too? However, given the higher mortality rate that always couples out-of-hours surgery and the risks associated with any invasive surgery, is he satisfied that it is safe to provide such a facility many miles from the nearest district general hospital?

Mr. Milburn: I am satisfied about that. The hon. Gentleman alludes to my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Lock), the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department. My hon. Friend has worked long and hard to secure that investment for his constituents. He has not been helped by those in the area who have ignored the best clinical advice, which comes from local consultants and GPs. They confirm what we know--that, sadly, it is not clinically safe to continue to provide the existing range of services in Kidderminster. We are doing what must be done, and ploughing in the additional investment for which my hon. Friend has quite rightly campaigned. I am very pleased that we have been able to give that investment the go-ahead, so that the Kidderminster area can have the modern, up-to-date facilities--and the new type of hospital--that it needs.

Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak): I too welcome today's announcement of significant investment in Birmingham. That investment will go on new facilities at the City Birmingham hospital, and on a new hospital to replace the Selly Oak and Queen Elizabeth hospitals. We have waited a very long time to replace the mixed-sex wards in old Victorian work houses, such as those that I visited at Selly Oak last month. However, my right hon. Friend will be aware that there is considerable anxiety that

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the taxpayer should not be taken for a ride by private finance companies. Will he assure my constituents that, if public finance proves to offer better value, it will be made available within the same time scale as private finance?

Mr. Milburn: Yes, that is always the case. We test developments to determine what will provide the best value for money--providing public-sector cash through the Exchequer, or getting the investment from the private sector. In fact, my hon. Friend will know that the public sector provides the cash anyway. In a sense, it is the same as taking out a mortgage, which is what everyone does to buy a house. It should be no different when it comes to paying for hospitals. At the end of the period--30 years, or whatever it is--if the local health service wants to have the hospital back, that is fine and dandy: the local service will get it back.

When I inspected some of the facilities in Birmingham, I was impressed by the strength of the case mounted by the local health service, and depressed by the state of some of the buildings. They are very old and extremely dilapidated, and this investment is long overdue. I believe that the investment of almost £300 million in new facilities in the Birmingham area will make a substantial difference to health care for patients and to the working environment for staff.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Today's statement by the Secretary of State is very bold, and welcome for that reason. Will he explain why the proposals do not amount to privatisation? The Labour party was dead against the private finance initiative before the 1997 general election. He will know that the Duchess of Kent's hospital in Catterick--in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague)--recently closed. Will he assure the House that, in addition to the expenditure announced in today's statement, extra resources will be given year on year to hospitals such as the Friarage, so that they can take the additional patients that the NHS now has to treat?

Mr. Milburn: With respect, that is precisely what is happening. For the next financial year from April 2001, health authority budgets will be growing by, on average, 8.9 per cent. I cannot remember the figure for North Yorkshire, but it is a substantial amount of money. Frankly, whereas the previous Government failed to put in that investment, this Government are making that investment. The hon. Lady asks what privatisation is. It is forcing people to pay for their hip, knee, hernia and cataract operations: the policy of her hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox).

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): I thank my right hon. Friend warmly on behalf of the people of Milton Keynes for his announcement today of a diagnostic and treatment centre at Milton Keynes general hospital. I welcome the recognition of the special problems that Milton Keynes faces because of its fast population growth of 5 per cent. every year. Will my right hon. Friend contrast today's announcement with the historic underfunding of Milton Keynes, as part of Buckinghamshire, under the Conservatives?

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Given that there are 16 new centres, will my right hon. Friend give some thought to encouraging networking between them and the existing centre at the Central Middlesex, so that the lessons can be learned about the most effective way to run such centres?

Mr. Milburn: That is an extremely sensible suggestion. We are talking about a new type of development for the NHS, so it would be sensible to learn from experience and from the success at the Central Middlesex. Milton Keynes will receive an additional £9 million of investment in the local community health service. My hon. Friend has raised the rate of population growth with me on a number of occasions, including in our discussions about this new development. I am pleased to tell her that the proposal that we have accepted today will bring about a 16 per cent. increase in the number of operations in the local area.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): May I congratulate the Secretary of State on this unprecedented announcement? I have been here for a long time and there never has been such an announcement before. In congratulating him on the proposed new build, I welcome also the plans to recruit and retain even more nurses, doctors, therapists, scientists and technicians. There will be some envy in those constituencies that are not currently benefiting from the additional money. Will the Minister of Health in Northern Ireland be kept advised of the excellent progress being made in the NHS here to ensure that we can maintain comparable standards?

May I personally thank the Secretary of State for the decision that has not yet been mentioned--to provide patients with privacy and dignity by getting rid of mixed wards?

Mr. Milburn: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. In this day and age, people should expect that, if they go into hospital, the basics will be right; the food should be good, the care should be provided, the wards should be clean and they should be given privacy and treated with dignity, particularly as so many people who use hospitals are elderly. That is precisely what we must provide and what will be possible in the new hospital developments. Over time, we will make that possible everywhere. The hon. Gentleman knows that we have

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regular dialogue between the four United Kingdom Health Ministers, and I very much hope that that continues in the future.

Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield): Substantial numbers of my constituents are treated daily at Pinderfields hospital in temporary huts that were erected for casualties of the second world war. I listened with amazement to the comments of the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) in response to this statement. In 18 years, all we got in Wakefield from the Conservative Government in response to our problems was a private hospital, built at Methley Park, which drew staff out of the NHS to treat people in the private sector. I warmly welcome the Government's announcement today.

In respect of PFI--which may be applied in many of the schemes--there are anxieties among low-paid, non-clinical staff about their treatment. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give to ensure that those people are properly valued within the NHS?

Mr. Milburn: On the last issue, my hon. Friend will be aware that the Government have changed the rules. Under the previous Government, the policy was one of compulsory competitive tendering and compulsory market-testing. Inevitably, that meant that in every one of the PFI deals that went ahead, low-paid staff were automatically transferred out to the private sector. That is no longer the position. It is now a matter of discretion for the local trust to determine whether it wants to retain services such as catering, portering and cleaning in-house, or to transfer staff to the private sector. As my hon. Friend knows, we have taken important steps to protect staff better if they transfer.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend who has campaigned long and hard for a new hospital in Wakefield. He knows that I am aware of the appalling facilities that staff and patients have had to tolerate at Pinderfields. He knows fine well that the local community, unlike those on the Opposition Front Bench, will welcome today's announcement.

Several hon. Members rose--

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