HC Deb 04 November 1968 vol 772 cc453-4
36. Biffen

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what estimate he has made of the number of people covered for hospital treatment by private medical insurance, and of the percentage increase in this number over the past three years; and what action he proposes on account of this trend.

Mr. Ennals:

None, Sir. I am aware of these schemes, but my concern is to see that hospital care is available without payment to those who need it.

Mr. Biffen:

Ought not the hon. Gentleman to welcome the valuable contribution which the private sector is making to the health of the nation? Is he aware that a progressive and popular gesture on his part would be to enable hospitals to keep for themselves income deriving from private beds which they make available within National Health hospitals?

Mr. Ennals:

My answer to the hon. Gentleman's second question is that I am certainly not proposing any change. As for his first question; we must recognise that a substantial extension of private practice in medicine would not be in the interests of the general public. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Because medical manpower is limited and if private patients claimed disproportionately more beds, there would be fewer for National Health patients.

Dr. John Dunwoody:

Will my hon. Friend consult his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer with a view to ending the practice by which the taxpayer subsidises private medical practice through tax relief obtained by industrial and business concerns which take out group insurance for their staff?

Mr. Ennals:

That is a different question.

Lord Balniel:

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that we certainly repudiate his views about private health insurance? Can he say quite simply whether it is Government policy to encourage or discourage private health insurance?

Mr. Ennals:

I expected the hon. Gentleman to repudiate that view. That indicates the difference between the two sides of the House on this question. The attitude of my right hon. Friend is precisely that of his predecessor. Our main responsibility is to the National Health Service and those who apply for treatment under it.