HC Deb 24 February 1976 vol 906 cc164-5
2. Mr. Nelson

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many applications for private hospital licences she has received; and when she anticipates granting the first licences for private beds outside the National Health Service.

Dr. Owen

Twenty-nine developers have sought advice from my Department. As the House knows, the proposals published on 15th December envisage further discussions with the professions and representatives of the private sector about the possibility of ensuring by voluntary means that developments in the private sector do not endanger the service the National Health Service gives its patients. The consultations will cover the point as to whether any reserve powers that it proved necessary to take in the legislation might be exercised by the independent board. We are waiting to hear the reaction of the profession to the results of the recent consultants' ballot on these proposals. Meanwhile, it would be inappropriate for me to offer any assurances or indication whether or not particular development would qualify for a licence. My Department has advised all applicants accordingly.

Mr. Nelson

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that under the Goodman proposals, the longer it takes to build new private hospitals the longer it will take to phase out pay beds? Does he further realise that by failing to approve or decline applications for licences, he is putting an effective blight on the development of new hospitals? Will he therefore initiate a major new hospital building programme?

Dr. Owen

I appreciate the hon. Member's difficulties, but I think we must await the outcome of the discussions and the possibilities they represent.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

That is not good enough. Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that he is now standing on their heads the original proposals in the consultative document? Does he not accept the point made by my hon. Friend for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) that, having made the phasing out of pay beds dependent on the provisions of private practice, any suggestion of quantity licensing to restrict the growth of private practice is wholly inappropriate?

Dr. Owen

We have to try to reach a voluntary agreement on any provisions that would endanger the National Health Service—and there are some. One can envisage a very large hospital being built in a small town. That would impair the NHS. I would have thought the Opposition would be as concerned to stop that sort of development as are the Government.