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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am aware of the history of the hospital and the services that it provides, to both NHS patients and private patients. There is no doubt that if the hospital closed, it would have an impact on the National Health Service, which is why we have made an allocation of £900,000. That will secure more treatment for NHS patients between now and the end of the financial year and time for the liquidator to find a solution.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, perhaps I may take the Minister up on what he said about knock-on effects. The three hospitals involved, in Chichester, Portsmouth and Guildford, are all already stretched to capacity. Will he assure the House that the strategic health authority is doing its job and thinking strategically about the demands being made on the NHS in that area, if closure were to take place?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I would expect the strategic health authorities to take a strategic view. I understand that they are developing contingency plans so that, if the hospital were forced into closure, the NHS would have to find provision of services elsewhere for patients who would have been referred to the hospital. That is being factored into their future plans. However, it should be recognised that nearly £1 million has been invested in the hospital very recently to give the liquidator time to find a long-term solution.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord is right to pay tribute to the history of the hospital and the contribution that it has made over many years. I am well aware of its local popularity. Equally, however, the NHS is not there, per se, to fund private hospitals. Funding must be given on the basis that the hospital is providing a good service to NHS patients. Decisions must be made locally, but I hope that the injection of additional funds during the next few weeks will give the liquidator time to find a way through.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that at six o'clock last Wednesday there was not one vacant bed in St Thomas' hospital? I read in the press last Thursday that 1,000 patients might go to Belgium to be treated next year. Is not the issue of a lack of beds extremely serious, and should not something be done quickly?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, bed capacity is an important issue. The noble Baroness will be aware that in the past two years the number of general and acute beds in the NHS has increased for the first time in many years. We are committed to increasing overall NHS capacity.
As for the issue of patients being sent abroad, the NHS has piloted schemes to enable NHS patients to travel abroad when that is appropriate. We are committed to providing more choice for patients generally. However, the key issue is raising capacity, and we are doing that by employing more staff and opening more facilities.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, the Minister has not slammed the door today and to that extent his answers are welcome. However, does he realise that Ministers who reject the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Walton, on such a subject risk finding themselves seriously in error? I would not wish that to happen to the noble Lord.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I try to find myself on the same side as the noble Lord, Lord Walton. I agree that that usually pays off. The noble Lord is right. I cannot say more. I cannot commit the NHS to long-term funding. It is not appropriate for me to do so. We have put in extra money from central funds. I very much hope that, with this support, the liquidator will find a way through. I am afraid that I cannot say any more than that and I cannot give any more commitment than that.
Baroness Strange: My Lords, does the Minister agree, without feeling too vulnerable, that we need every good hospital that we have got? As my noble friend has so ferociously said, the King Edward VII hospital at Midhurst is brilliant and we ought to do everything that we can to keep it going.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I fully accept that that is a popular view of the hospital. I reiterate that these are matters for local NHS bodies to decide. We have set the conditions under which there is a little time for further discussions to take place. Let us hope that there will be a successful conclusion, but I cannot guarantee it.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, specific information on how many investors have been granted leave to enter the United Kingdom in the past five years is not kept. All applications for entry clearance as an investor are referred to the Immigration and Nationality Directorate's business case unit for a decision. As part of their consideration, the bank statements and source of funds are checked. Further security inquiries may be made as necessary.
Lord Hooson: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that statement. Is it not correct that the rules enable anybody who is ostensibly rich to enter this country and have a right of abode here provided they have at least £1 million and undertake to invest £750,000, and provided they can satisfy the authorities that neither they nor their dependants will depend on jobs in this country or on the resources of this country? Presumably they are then allowed in. The rules require that such a person must intend,
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord has asked a number of questions, following one or two assertions. Broadly speaking, he has correctly described the situation. To put it on the record, after going through the process, people are granted entry for a period not exceeding 12 months. That needs to be understood. They are granted further leave to enter for maximum periods of up to three years, provided they meet the rules. Indefinite leave to remain may be granted on completion of four years' continuous leave. So there are further considerations.
Checks are made with banks, together with other security checks, to ensure, as far as possible, that funds obtained by criminal activity are not used. The vast majority of investor applications result in entry clearance being granted. I can advise your Lordships' House that there have been no recent refusals.
Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, did I understand the noble Lord to say that all applications are referred to a single government department? If that is the case, why on earth does that government department not have a record of them?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I thought it was important to ask officials that when I was briefed on this Question. I raised with them the need to keep a careful check on numbers. I would not want to leave the impression that we are not being rigorous, because rigorous checks are carried out. NCIS is used in the exercise and we are careful to ensure that people who come here promising investment deliver it.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, following up on my noble friend's question, which was to the point, will the Minister assure the House that rigorous checks will be made in future? He has said that occasionally there may be security checks. Will he assure the House that there will be security checks for these people and that we will have records of who they are and what happens to them so that we do not have this appalling situation in future?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the situation is carefully monitored. I do not want any impression to be created that that is not the case. The policy was introduced by a Conservative government. The noble Baroness is party to that. We have inherited it. Security checks on details of people's banking and bona fides are made. These rules have long been in place. Of course I am happy to go back to the department and say that a better check should be kept on numbers.
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