HC Deb 12 December 1989 vol 163 cc829-31
2. Mr. David Evans

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what is the latest figure he has for the number of hospitals, health districts and specialist units which have expressed an interest in becoming a self-governing National Health Service hospital trust.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

One hundred and eighty-eight units have expressed interest in NHS trust status, including a number with more than one hospital. Seventy-nine of those units intend to proceed with preparing applications for the first wave, of trusts, which we would expect to be established in April 1991. However, applications will not be invited until Parliament has approved the necessary legislation.

Mr. Evans

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Opposition's scaremongering, directed almost entirely at senior citizens, has proved to be complete nonsense and that hospital trusts will be publicly owned and paid for by the taxpayer? Will he confirm that the campaign of preprinted cards which Labour Members told us would arrive at the Department in their millions has been a complete shambles, with only about 50,000 arriving? Does that not show that Conservatives are the caring party and Labour the scaring party?

Mr. Clarke

The NHS trusts will be NHS hospitals providing free treatment paid for from taxation. Local people who run them will strive to improve the service, particularly to elderly people, because theirs is the fastest-growing area of demand to which an ever-growing amount of resources will be distributed. I agree with my hon. Friend that the cards were a complete fiasco. Back in August I read accounts of the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) promising me hundreds of thousands of them. In the end, even with the complete membership of the Labour party undoubtedly filling in and buying the postage stamps for as many as possible, they could produce only 50,000.

Mr. Kennedy

The Secretary of State is fond of saying that self-governing trusts will enhance patient choice. He will agree that for that to make any sense, a proper information system must be available. There have been reports that some of those considering self-governing trust status have submitted figures to the Department of Health suggesting that some hospitals will require as much as £3 million to upgrade computer systems. What estimate has the Department made of the proper systems technology that will be required for the aims to which it aspires in the proposals to be reached?

Mr. Clarke

The entire National Health Service requires investment in information technology. Quite apart from the White Paper, it will be necessary for this giant organisation to invest in catching up on modern methods of collecting management information and then using it. It is not necessary for our reforms for there to be vast investment in computers and software ahead of the 1991 implementation. The development of computers and software should proceed at a sensible pace with systems being worked up and proved in practice before they are widely adopted. As we develop the idea of NHS trusts, we shall explain to those interested that they should not be misled into believing that millions of pounds worth of information technology are a prerequisite of a more sensible method of matching resources to patients in the service.

Mr. Flannery

Why does not the Secretary of State admit that it is useless to massage the facts and figures about hospitals showing an interest, as he calls it? I wrote to the Secretary of State asking for the names of the people in Sheffield hospitals who had shown an interest so that I could provide them to all the people of Sheffield. The Under-Secretary of State replied that that information was private. Eventually, we met representatives of Sheffield health authority, which admitted that a group of working parties composed only of consultants had asked for it—

Mr. Speaker

Briefly, please.

Mr. Flannery

There is no democracy in that. It is a travesty of the truth. Why does not the Mininister come clean?

Mr. Clarke

If and when we receive a formal application for self-governing status from Sheffield or anywhere else, it will be worked up by those sponsoring it and subjected to public consultation next summer. There is no point in the hon. Gentleman trying to get partial information at this stage about expressions of interest which he no doubt wishes to see to confuse still further the political debate that he is trying to set off in Sheffield. The hon. Gentleman should wait until we have proper applications that explain what the proposal is really about. That will make it more difficult for the hon. Gentleman and his friends to go on about opting out of the National Health Service and other such nonsense.