HC Deb 01 November 1988 vol 139 cc814-6
10. Mr. John Garrett

To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he expects to publish the results of his review of the National Health Service.

13. Mr. Cohen

To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he expects to publish the results of his review of the National Health Service.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

We shall bring forward a White Paper in the new year.

Mr. Garrett

Does the Secretary of State expect the review to confirm the principle of a tax-funded National Health Service, or does he expect it to follow his charges for preventive tests, with charges for accommodation and food in hospitals? Or is he waiting for the Prime Minister to make up his mind for him?

Mr. Clarke

The hon. Gentleman will have to wait for the review, but I can assure him that it will be consistent with our policy of seeking to improve and develop the NHS. As for the charges, it was a Labour Government who, in 1951, introduced the principle of payment for dental, optical and pharmaceutical services by those who could afford it. The Labour party has never gone back on that, except for a very short period. Labour raised charges when it was in office, and it is obvious that this is a sensible way of raising revenue to finance the considerable expansion of the NHS that we are implementing.

Mr. Cohen

Is not creeping privatisation the cup of poison that the Government have planned for the NHS? Are they not planning a further rundown in the NHS to help the rise of the private sector, although that sector does not train nurses but only steals them from the NHS? Will not this pernicious privatisation mean more personal bankruptcies from bad health and the shrinking of available treatment on the NHS?

Mr. Clarke

The answer to all three questions is no. The hon. Gentleman should not base questions on such a parody of our policies after a period when we have plainly improved the NHS greatly, compared with its performance under the preceding Labour Government.

Mr. McCrindle

If, as my right hon. and learned Friend seems to suggest, there is a certain slowing in the pace of the NHS review, will he take the opportunity to focus particularly on treatment of the elderly? Although I do not exclude the advantages that the elderly can gain from private health insurance, will my right hon. and learned Friend try to appreciate even more than he does now that the elderly rely perhaps more heavily than any other section of the community on provision by the NHS?

Mr. Clarke

We welcome all contributions to our discussions while they continue, and I certainly welcome any from my hon. Friend. One reason why demands on the NHS continue to rise so inexorably is that an ever higher proportion of the population are living into old age and need to have more recourse to the service. We have so far managed to keep ahead of that rising demand, and we must continue to do so.

Mr. Yeo

When my right hon. and learned Friend publishes his White Paper, will he address the question of AIDS? Bearing in mind the lack of accurate information about the rate at which the virus is spreading, will he introduce at the earliest opportunity a system of anonymous blood tests so that future policy can be formed on the basis of accurate information?

Mr. Clarke

As my hon. Friend knows, we are making available considerable resources to deal with the advance of this pandemic. We must continue to do so on the best estimates we have of the continued increase in patients. We are actively considering anonymous testing as a contribution to studies of the epidemic, but it raises a number of difficult ethical and legal problems.

Mr. Robin Cook

In reaching his conclusions on the review of the NHS, will the Secretary of State bear in mind the warning provided by the experience of Mrs. Veronica Barnes, who, despite paying 40 years' subscriptions to Private Patients Plan, has had her cover for treatment for cancer withdrawn. Will he give weight to her observation: Private insurers seem keen enough to get you when there is nothing wrong with you, but as soon as you are really ill, they don't want to know. Does not her case demonstrate the danger of running down the NHS to boost private medicine and show precisely why we need to keep the service free to everybody when they need it?

Mr. Clarke

It is ridiculous to say that the Government are running down the National Health Service, when one compares our nine-year record with that of our predecessors. I only hope that the hon. Gentleman's random question, with a letter from one person, is not part of his support to his junior spokesman, who is still conducting attacks on private medicine more suitable to the politics of the 1960s than today. It is obvious that in a more prosperous society an ever-higher proportion of the population will look to private insurance for part of their health treatment. That is a good thing, because it relieves pressure on the National Health Service.