HC Deb 28 February 1984 vol 55 cc122-3
4. Mr. Tim Smith

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what progress is being made towards privatisation of non-health services within the National Health Service.

Mr. John Patten

I assume that my hon. Friend is referring to competitive tendering. District health authorities have been asked to submit to regional health authorities, by the end of February, their programmes for putting their cleaning, catering and laundry services out to competitive tender.

Mr. Smith

Does my hon. Friend agree that privatisation is the most effective way of achieving efficiency and savings in the National Health Service? If that is the case, will he do everything he can to ensure that proposals are put forward and implemented as soon as possible?

Mr. Patten

Competitive tendering is one of the best ways of ensuring maximum savings so that there is more money to spend on patient care. My right hon. Friend is doing all that he can to see that the ends to which my hon. Friend referred are achieved.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Does the Minister accept that health authorities would be in an impossible position if private contractors defaulted because of bankruptcy? Will he support health authorities which seek a substantial bond to guard against such eventualities?

Mr. Patten

We shall certainly consider that point. However, when I was in the Leeds area last Thursday I was pleased to hear reports of the competitive tendering that had resulted in the contracting out of domestic cleaning services at the Clarendon wing of the Leeds general infirmary leading to a saving of some £45,000 a year. That authority has saved a considerable amount of money.

Mr. David Atkinson

Can my hon. Friend tell us what savings have been made from the privatisation of nonmedical health services?

Mr. Patten

The programme is only just beginning. As it happens, district health authorities are asked to report to regional health authorities by tomorrow. As to the progress with competitive tendering, I could point to the £1 million expected to be saved over three years by the Medway health authority.

Mr. Marlow

Why has employment in the National Health Service more than doubled over the past 20 years, increasing by some 750,000 full-time equivalents, while the number of beds has decreased? Do not the reasons for that give my hon. Friend an even greater incentive to get on with privatisation as fast as he can?

Mr. Patten

In the National Health Service we try to measure the patients treated, not the number of beds existing at any one time. My hon. Friend is right. Considerable savings could be made through competitive tendering. Another example of that is the 17 per cent. saving in expenditure to be made on laundry services in north Warwickshire, which is not far from my hon. Friend's constituency.

Mr. Dobson

Will the Minister give the House the benefit of his knowledge and tell us where savings have been made, rather than those that are projected to be made? How many of the district health authorities or hospitals that have gone over to private contracting have returned to in-house provision because of the unsatisfactory services provided by the cowboy contractors?

Mr. Patten

Very few. With respect, I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman could have been listening closely to my earlier reply, when I cited a number of savings which have already been made in the National Health Service as clear signs of the considerable savings that can and will be made in an area where up to £1 billion a year is spent.