HC Deb 15 January 1985 vol 71 cc178-9
10. Mr. Pavitt

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the total number of beds in hospitals within the National Health Service in England and Wales, the number of pay beds and the number of beds now awailable in private hospitals, excluding nursing homes for the elderly; what percentage of the population are now covered by private health insurance schemes; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

In 1983, the latest year for which figures are available, there were on average 343,090 beds available daily in NHS hospitals in England. On 31 December 1983 there were 2,987 authorised pay beds in NHS hospitals in England. At the same date, there were, provisionally, 37,980 beds in the private sector, of which 8,100 were in premises with operating theatres. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will send the hon. Member figures for Wales. We estimate that 8 per cent. of the population is now covered by private medical insurance. We welcome the growth of private medicine because patients should have freedom of choice, and because it adds to the country's health care resources and relieves pressure on the NHS.

Mr. Pavitt

Do not these figures and facts make complete nonsense of the statement by Mr. Victor Paige when defending his BUPA attachment? He said that most people now have private health care and that he would have to take some time to understand the Health Service. Cannot the Minister start thinking again about bringing from business people who have not a clue about health care and provision to run the Health Service? Is it not appalling to pay £70,000 a year to a man whose only previous experience is to preside over the diminution of the Port of London Authority, and over Sainsburys, when he thinks that baked beans going in and out of a checkpoint are the same things as patients?

Mr. Clarke

The hon. Gentleman has slightly misquoted Mr. Victor Paige, who was describing the arrangements for managers in industry and was not talking about the generality of the population. Unusually for the hon. Gentleman, he is making trite points in a silly attack on Sainsburys and the rest, when we are talking about the appointment of a powerful manager to head a successful and expanding service. We should be concentrating on what we are producing by the changes that we are making, and on the room for changes. We are treating 12 per cent. more patients each year in our hospitals than was the case in the last year of the Labour Government and no fewer than 45 per cent. more day cases each year than in 1979. The appointment of a general manager is the next step in carrying on improving the Health Service.

Mr. McCrindle

Notwithstanding the rather carping attitude of Labour Members, has my right hon. and learned Friend recently noticed evidence that NHS patients are progressively being treated from time to time in private hospitals? Does this not underline the fact that, far from being competitive, there is a strong argument that coexistence between the public and private sectors is to the benefit of all?

Mr. Clarke

I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. We should be interested in whether we are treating the patients properly and getting waiting lists down. That matters far more than who owns the building and who pays the staff. If it is a more cost-effective way of treating patients, we would welcome collaboration between the NHS and the private sector if a health authority finds that it gets more inpatients treated that way.