HC Deb 20 March 1990 vol 169 cc1000-1
8. Mr. Andrew Smith

To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he next plans to meet the chief executive of the National Health Service; and what matters will be discussed.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

Mr. Duncan Nichol has responsibility, with his management executive colleagues, for the operation and management of the National Health Service and the delivery of the objectives set for health authorities in line with Government policies and resources. I therefore keep in constant and regular touch with Mr. Nichol over a wide range of issues and usually meet him several times a week.

Mr. Smith

Will the Secretary of State ask Mr. Nichol to review urgently and sympathetically the capital funding problems facing Oxford region, specifically to enable it to proceed with the much-needed replacement of shockingly sub-standard mental illness wards at Littlemore hospital? Will he consider favourably the loan application that he has received for much-needed facilities for severely disturbed elderly people at Littlemore hospital? Is it not time that mental health received the capital investment that it deserves?

Mr. Clarke

Oxford region has an excellent record of capital investment. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that it is sustained. At the moment, we are having to consider the position in the light of the drop in the anticipated level of land sales, which has been helping to boost that programme, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that Duncan Nichol and myself will keep a close eye on that. I remind him that, for the first time, this year we have introduced a capital loan scheme. One of its first objects is to enable regions to make progress in building new facilities for mentally ill paitents, so that better facilities can replace the older mental hospitals without having to wait for their closure and sale first. I am sure that Oxford region is considering the possibility of making use of that.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

When he next meets Mr. Nichol, will my right hon. and learned Friend ask him why, when so much additional money is being allocated to the Health Service, so many cottage hospitals are closing and why, when the Health Service is selling so much land in the Macclesfield health authority area, so little goes to Macclesfield and our hospitals and facilities are consistently being closed?

Mr. Clarke

It is the duty of Health Service managers at every level to make the most effective use of the resources at their command. Obviously, we sometimes have difficult arguments about whether a community hospital should be replaced by a facility elsewhere. I wish that, nationally and locally, people would concentrate more on the number of patients being treated and on the work being done by the Health Service, both of which have increased dramatically since we came to office. The number of in-patients being treated each year is 1.25 million greater than when we took over. That is the best measure of what is happening, both nationally and in Macclesfield.

As to land sales, I encourage management so to arrange things that most of any money raised from sales remains at local level. In that way, local management is given the incentive in making disposals. No doubt, Duncan Nichol will have a look at the particular dispute between Macclesfield and its region, which appears to lie behind the question.