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Hospital Wards

7. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): What his policy is towards the provision of mixed wards in hospitals. [208907]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Ms Rosie Winterton): Our policy is that the NHS should provide single-sex accommodation for hospital in-patients, and 97 per cent. of NHS trusts now meet single-sex accommodation standards.

Mr. Chapman: I welcome the figure of 97 per cent. None the less, a survey by the National Consumer Council found that shared wards remain a major concern for patients, because they can cause stress and embarrassment to people who are already in a vulnerable situation, whether they be in general wards, emergency wards, short-stay wards or even general wards that have single-sex space. While I recognise that it would cause a loss of flexibility and perhaps a loss of beds, will my hon. Friend ensure that we move from 97 per cent. to 100 per cent. as soon as humanly possible?

Ms Winterton: Certainly. We are obviously delighted that we exceeded the target for December 2002 for 97 per cent. of in-patient stays in single-sex accommodation. I assure my hon. Friend that we are working towards 100 per cent. In the remaining areas of non-compliance with the guidance, new hospitals and new accommodation are being built. That should overcome the problems and allow us to reach 100 per cent.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Back in the heady days of 1996 when the Prime Minister was Leader of the Opposition, he asked,

of mixed-sex wards?

Since then, the target for 95 per cent. of single-sex wards by 2002 was missed by an unspecified figure. Subsequently, a new target for April 2004 was not met and the Health Service Journal reported that at least 84 mixed-sex wards still existed and a quarter of mental
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health patients were in mixed-sex accommodation. The targets do not apply to teenagers. Why does the Minister refuse to name the hospitals that continue to have mixed-sex wards? Eight years after the Prime Minister's initial indignation, will the target turn out to be simply another failed Labour promise from a Minister who is becoming the Minister for failed promises?

Ms Winterton: The guidance that we use for single-sex accommodation is the same as the guidance that the Conservative Government distributed. That is how we analyse the compliance. We have been unwilling to publish the details of hospitals where there is non-compliance because it does not necessarily mean that the whole hospital is not meeting the required standards. In some areas, hospitals are not reaching the target but there are plans in place to do so. However, I shall consider whether we can publish the information in the near future.

National Programme for IT

8. Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): If he will make a statement on the national programme for IT in the NHS. [208908]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): Last year, contracts were let within budget and on time for all the major components of the national programme for information technology. The Department of Health is working with local NHS organisations to ensure the effective implementation of those new systems.

Mr. Bacon: Why were there only 63 bookings under the choose and book service by the end of December, when the Government, even under the slowed-down timetable, had been expecting 200,000?

Mr. Hutton: There has clearly been a delay in the implementation of choose and book. However, it is important to bear it in mind that we are considering probably the biggest civil IT programme anywhere in the world. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who is an expert on such matters, knows that. It is fanciful to suggest that we could implement it with no hiccups and no technical problems. We have never made that claim. The progress on choose and book is slower than I would have preferred but I am confident that, with the other measures that we have recently announced on ensuring that all first out-patient appointments can be booked at a time and place that is convenient to the patient, we can meet our objectives by December 2005.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): The director general of the national programme for IT in the NHS is reported as saying that the Government's blueprint for NPfIT had no engineering basis and had to be reverse engineered. Given that NPfIT will cost £300,000 per doctor over 10 years, can the Minister justify the
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appalling progress on electronic booking? Why is there so much residual concern about the security of electronically held medical records? In retrospect, would not it have been wiser, in all candour, to engage GPs fully from the start in the process? Would not it have been better to utilise existing processes such as EMIS, in which doctors truly have confidence?

Mr. Hutton: I take issue with the hon. Gentleman about his figures. They do not represent the cost of the national programme for IT. Perhaps we can revert to that at a later date. Of course we all agree that engaging front-line clinicians is an important objective. That is why we are working closely with GPs, many of whom have been involved in helping us to design and shape the national programme for IT to serve the purpose that we want it to provide: a more modern, more convenient, more accessible and more error-free NHS. Rather than moan and groan, as the hon. Gentleman always does, I would have hoped that he and his hon. Friends would at least acknowledge that we are establishing a programme that is the right way forward for the NHS and is fundamental to delivering patient choice and improvements in quality. I hope that, at some point, the hon. Gentleman will get on board and support the national programme for IT because it is right for the NHS. It is a difficult programme to get right, but his negative approach is out of place.

NHS Trust Deficits

9. Mr. Archie Norman (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): What steps he is taking to address financial deficits in NHS trusts. [208909]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): Strategic health authorities have responsibility for managing the financial performance of NHS trusts in their area. Additional financial support is provided, where necessary, to NHS trusts and primary care trusts through the NHS bank, strategic health authorities and, in exceptional circumstances, the Department of Health.

Mr. Norman: Is the Minister aware of the claim in the Health Service Journal that the NHS is deep in the red to the tune of £500 million, and that the usual claim that this will sort itself out by the end of the financial year will no longer wash? Will he acknowledge that, this year, a large proportion of the deficits have been caused by unbudgeted cost overruns on centrally driven initiatives such as the new consultants' contract—which could cost an extra £200 million—the GP contract and the working time directive? Does he also recognise that the British Medical Association is saying that 25 per cent. of NHS trusts have already frozen vacant positions? Does he acknowledge that, this year, there is a real case for funding those deficits directly, where merit-worthy cases can be presented to demonstrate that the fault lies with central Government rather than with faulty planning or budgeting by the trust?

Mr. Hutton: I am certainly aware of the Health Service Journal's predictions about the financial state of the national health service this year. I know that the hon. Gentleman is a strong supporter of the NHS, and
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I appreciate that. I would like to remind him that the Health Service Journal, Conservative Front Benchers and Liberal Democrat Front Benchers have made predictions about deficits every year, but none has ever proved to be accurate or well founded. Last year, the Lib Dems predicted a £400 million deficit; we actually had a £73 million surplus.

Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab): Is it possible to track and address deficits in an NHS devoid of accountants, administrators and strategic health authorities? If not, would it be fair to dismiss these dedicated civil servants as pointless and unnecessary bureaucrats at the stroke of a pen, or would that be to perpetrate a deliberate falsehood on the British public?

Mr. Hutton: I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. When we look at the proposals that are eventually emerging from those on the Conservative Front Bench, we see how utterly threadbare, incredible and ludicrous their arithmetic is. The NHS needs good management; it does not need slash and burn, which is what the Tories are proposing.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): Will the Minister tell me whether NHS deficits have anything to do with the fact that Ebixa, a drug used to treat Alzheimer's disease, is available in Ashfield but not in Ashbourne?

Mr. Hutton: I accept that there are issues there, and it is perfectly fair of the hon. Gentleman to raise them, although we have taken concrete, specific and successful measures to deal with the lottery of care that we inherited in 1997. We shall need to wait and see what the true position on NHS deficits is at the year end, but it will bear no resemblance to the figures that the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Norman) has just quoted.
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