§ The Minister for Health (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)
The cost of managing the National Health Service as a proportion of total resources fell by 1.2 per cent. between March 1979 and March 1980 and will be reduced by a further 10 per cent. by March 1985.
§ Mr. Beith
Is the Minister confident that he can achieve the 10 per cent. reduction from the recent changes, when he has imposed a number of additional duties on health authorities, such as the questioning of overseas patients about payments, the new financial directives and the decision to increase upwards accountability for decision-making in the Health Service? Will not all of those factors add to management costs?
§ Mr. Clarke
One immediate effect of the recent changes is that 58 management teams no longer exist, saving more than 200 senior posts. We are now beginning to set up the new management structures for district health authorities. The regions will have the first reports on those new structures by July this year, and we intend to ensure that the target of 10 per cent. by 1985 is achieved. With regard to the other matters to which the hon. Gentleman referred, if they raise any extra administrative costs at all, it will be to a trivial extent.
§ Mr. Blackburn
Will my hon. and learned Friend accept the congratulations of the House on the figures that he has given, with the reduction of 1 per cent. in administration charges, especially as since 1979 21,000 more nurses have been employed in the Health Service?
§ Mr. Clarke
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his observations. Inasmuch as we can save administrative costs, more resources can be devoted to the care of patients. If staff increases are to be made, we must ensure that they are nurses and doctors who are at the sharp end of the provision of treatment to patients.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
Why does the Minister persist in saying that there are 21,000 more nurses when he knows that they are whole-time equivalents and that he is really just fudging the figures? Secondly, will not a further 10 per cent. cut in management costs fundamentally damage the service?
§ Mr. Clarke
Because there are part-time nurses, the figures can only be presented on the basis of whole-time equivalents. Otherwise, I should have to say that there are 34,000 more nurses. I am glad to say that staffing increases in the Health Service are heavily concentrated on improved care of patients. That is a measure of the extent to which the Government are devoting more resources to the Health Service. That is what we have done for the past three years and shall continue to do for the remainder of our period in office.