HC Deb 13 July 1982 vol 27 cc841-3
6. Mr. Hoyle

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the proportion of new money that is being made available to the regional health authorities to enable them to meet the current pay offer to National Health Service staff.

7. Mr. Hal Miller

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what effect the pay offer has had on the finances available to health authorities for capital works.

Mr. Fowler

As my hon. and learned Friend indicated on 8 July, health authorities in England will be required to meet £32.2 million or 43 per cent. of the cost of the latest offers from within existing revenue allocations. With the additional money made available in March, the Government have provided a total of £161 million extra for pay, of which health authorities will meet £58 million or 36 per cent. The capital cash limits of regional health authorities will not be revised as a result of the pay offers, but authorities may need to review both their capital and revenue spending plans in order to meet their contribution to the costs of these pay offers, and authorities are able, within agreed limits, to switch funds from capital to revenue and vice versa.

Mr. Hoyle

Does the Secretary of State accept that the true cost is probably £59 million and that that will have a disastrous effect on patient care? If and when he gets down to meaningful negotiations on the pay claim, instead of political smears, so that patients do not suffer, will he ensure that it is funded from national resources, not from regional health authority budgets?

Mr. Fowler

I totally reject the hon. Gentleman's comments. The Government are spending more on the National Health Service in real terms than any Government have done in the history of the NHS. On meaningful talks over pay, I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Government have moved not once but twice, while the unions have remained inflexible on a completely unrealistic demand.

Mr. Miller

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not sensible to take resources from capital projects to defray increased salaries? Will he reconsider the position whereby regional health authorities are allowed to use funds in this way? Will he confirm, in particular, that the start on the long-delayed district general hospital in my constituency will not be further delayed as a result of these wage negotiations?

Mr. Fowler

I understand my hon. Friend's concern. These are some of the problems that we have sought to set before the public over the past two months.

As regards what my hon. Friend said about his own area, I gather that the West Midlands regional health authority will be holding a meeting to review its capital programme in a few days' time and that no decision has yet been taken to amend the capital programme.

Mr. Pavitt

Will the Secretary of State confirm that in the North-West Thames region the present growth is 0.03 per cent., and that, when the share of the £34 million extra wage costs goes to that region, there will be a decline, in real terms, in the money that is available? Will he have another look at the idea of switching from one budget head to another? As the year is already one-third of the way through, it will be impossible for district health authorities to do that. How, therefore, will he cope with the overspending which is inevitable in the North-West Thames region?

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Gentleman's premise depends upon how the share is worked out. I hope to make an announcement on the matter during the next few days. I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that his fears are not proved.

Mr. Dover

If some of the hospital staff on the medical side work normally in the first half of next week, will the Secretary of State, together with the regional health authority chairmen, look more favourably at the reallocation of any possible capital funds to those areas in future?

Mr. Fowler

At the moment, most people, including all medical staff, most nurses and many other staff in the Health Service, are working normally, and I pay tribute to their work. They are keeping the Health Service going in the most difficult circumstances. I have nothing further to add on capital resources.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Will the Secretary of State tell the House plainly why ACAS has decided that it has no role to play in talking to the Health Service unions? Is it because the Secretary of State refuses to put any new money on the table and that he is really talking about a direct cut in patient care?

Mr. Fowler

The Government have already put substantial new money on the table. The hon. Lady may shake her head, but the fact is that the Government have moved twice on this matter. The Health Service unions have remained inflexible throughout. They remain committed to an unrealistic claim of 12 per cent., which in fact means 20 per cent.

Mrs. Dunwoody

When did the Secretary of State last speak to the Health Service unions? Is it not true that so far all the talks have been conducted by civil servants who have had a tight brief and have therefore not been able to do the job properly?

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Lady should start to read the newspapers. I spoke to the Health Service unions over two days of meetings about two weeks ago. I have told the unions—and the hon. Lady should take this on board—that if they want to come and talk to me about new arrangements for pay, my door is open and the talks can start immediately. If the hon. Lady is asking for more money, the answer is "No".