HC Deb 22 December 1981 vol 15 cc857-8
7. Mr. Marks

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he has given any guidance to health authorities on the privatisation of the maintenance and cleaning of hospitals.

Mr. Fowler

Arrangements for the maintenance and cleaning of hospitals are for individual health authorities to determine according to their local needs and circumstances. I would expect them to look at the possibility of commercial contracts in seeking to provide efficient and economic services, and my hon. Friend the Minister for Health wrote to all authority chairmen in August urging them to take this commonsense step.

Mr. Marks

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that the matter is left to area health authorities to deal with as they think fit. Where privatisation takes place, will the Government monitor some of the schemes to ensure that they are economic?

Mr. Fowler

I cannot give a guarantee that we shall monitor them. As responsibility lies with the regional health authorities, it is important for them to be satisfied that they are getting good value for money, since it is that that they and the Government want.

Mr. Anthony Grant

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if ancillary services in the National Health Service were carried out by the private sector to the same extent in Britain as in some other countries there would be a saving of the best part of £50 million per annum, which could be used to provide vital medical equipment? is he further aware that some bureaucrats in the NHS are resisting the sensible guidance of his Department to justify their little empires under reorganisation?

Mr. Fowler

I very much hope that my hon. Friend's last suggestion is not the case. The entire interest of the NHS should be to try to find the maximum efficiency within the service. That is the sensible way of proceeding.

Mr. David Atkinson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that only 2.54 per cent. of Britain's total hospital expenditure on cleaning goes out to the private sector, compared with 50 per cent. in Belgium and France, 60 per cent. in Germany and Denmark and 70 per cent. in Sweden and New Zealand? When will he take measures to ensure that health authorities are obliged to put cleaning out to private tender?

Mr. Fowler

The best way of proceeding is that set out by my hon. Friend the Minister for Health. As my hon. Friend has already said, he has urged authorities to consider a commonsense step forward. I am informed that about 10 area health authorities report that some of the hospitals in their areas have special cleaning facilities. I should welcome an increase in that number, but it must be borne in mind that we are seeking the maximum efficiency. If that can be provided, the step that is being urged by my hon. Friend makes a great deal of sense