HC Deb 18 December 1990 vol 183 cc140-1
5. Mr. Robert Hughes

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps he has taken to reduce health inequalities.

Mr. Waldegrave

It is a fundamental objective of our national health service reforms to give patients, wherever they live in the United Kingdom and regardless of how well off they are, better health care and greater choice.

Mr. Hughes

Does the Minister agree that it is now 10 years since the Black committee report on inequalities in health? Can he explain why, in those 10 years, inequalities in health have got worse instead of better? Is not that a damning indictment of the abject failure of the Government to tackle the problems?

Mr. Waldegrave

The thing to remember is that everyone's health has got better in the past 10 years, as it did in the previous 10 years. Life expectancy has increased by about two years for everyone. I am not going to say that our Government have abolished inequalities in health care any more than the Labour Government did when they were in power. However, we are introducing some powerful new mechanisms that will help. For example, the GP contract, although it has been unpopular with some GPs, is raising the level of immunology—for example, child immunology—in the places where it was worst. When Opposition Members say that they are going to repeal that contract, will they be satisfied with lowering the levels of child immunology again?

Dame Jill Knight

My right hon. Friend may have omitted to mention another important part of the reduction in inequalities with regard to the contract, as elderly people now have regular checks, which was not previously the case. Can he give us any information about that?

Mr. Waldegrave

My hon. Friend is right. That, too, is an important weapon to help us move away from those problems, which occur throughout the world. Another relevant matter is that, under the new financial system, health districts will for the first time have the duty to produce a proper health plan for their area, taking into account the problems of social deprivation that they may face. That should also help.

Mr. Graham

Is the Minister aware that under the health plan, school children in Strathclyde are receiving letters telling them that they will no longer get eye tests in school and that they will have to go to hospital? Is that the type of planning that he wishes to see?

Mr. Waldegrave

What I am aware of—although I hope that I do not embarrass my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland by saying this—is that the situation in Scotland at least shows that there is no simple connection between resources and health, because Scotland spends rather more than we do in England per head, but has no better health statistics.

Sir Dudley Smith

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, despite the millions and millions that the Government have rightly put into the national health service, regional and local health authorities are at best muscle-bound and at worst insensitive in much of their public relations? Will he bear that in mind and try to do something about it?

Mr. Waldegrave

It is important that health districts and regions should have clearly designated spokesmen to answer questions that it is legitimate for people to ask them. I think that I should be criticised in the House if I encouraged them to launch large public relations campaigns. However, I take my hon. Friend's point. There must always be a clear contact point for inquiries from the public at district and regional level.