HC Deb 20 March 1990 vol 169 cc998-1000
7. Mr. Skinner

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what recent discussions he has had with National Health Service trades union representatives; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

Ministers in my Department have frequent meetings with NHS trade union representatives on a variety of subjects. There were four such meetings last month and I personally met the TUC health services committee on three occasions last year.

Mr. Skinner

Why does not the Secretary of State for Health go to Mid-Staffordshire and speak to Health Service union representatives there? Why does not he explain to them how he manages to combine cutting the National Health Service and opting out? Why does not he explain to ambulance workers up there in Mid-Staffordshire why he is prepared to offer them only 6.5 per cent., when company bosses got 28 per cent. last year?

Mr. Clarke

My hon. Friend the Minister for Health went to Staffordshire yesterday and tells me that she had an excellent reception. As far as I am aware—and despite the efforts of the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), no doubt—health is not a seriously controversial issue in Staffordshire, because the record of advance, in terms of the money spent, the patients treated and the new hospital building already achieved and proposed, has been outstanding. The idea that we can have a serious political argument on the basis that everything that is wrong with the Health Service is the result of underfunding, when we have increased spending on the Health Service by 20 per cent. in cash terms in two years, is nonsensical, and I am told that it has no appeal whatever to the electors of Staffordshire.

Mr. John Greenway

When my right hon. and learned Friend next meets the representatives of the Health Service unions, will he point out to them that there are more people working in the Health Service than ever before and that they are being paid more than ever before? That is a record which the Labour party never could and never will sustain.

Mr. Clarke

The Labour party achieved that record only for some groups of staff who had a habit of going on strike to achieve a higher pay claim. The Labour party reduced in real terms pay of nurses throughout its last six years in office and penalised all those who showed the most dedication to their patients. We have a much better record than our predecessors, in terms of the number of staff employed, their remuneration and making better use of their services to the best advantage of the patients.

Mr. Tom Clarke

When the Secretary of State next meets the unions in the Health Service, such as the Confederation of Health Service Employees, the National Union of Public Employees, the National and Local Government Officers' Association and the GMB, will he accept that their views on community care are highly progressive? As a token of accepting their views, will he ensure some ring-fencing or earmarking of the limited resources that are made available for those purposes?

Mr. Clarke

First, most of the representatives of those trade unions warmly welcome my statement of Government policy on care in the community. Their members are actively looking forward to working with us on that. Secondly, I do not believe that is a correct approach to any part of local government spending to start "ring-fencing", as the hon. Gentleman puts it, by specific grants—set sums of money for set parts of the budget. We are placing confidence in local government to discharge its full responsibilities for choosing priorities within the social service budgets, for making use of the extra funds that we shall give local authorities on quite a scale and for making its own judgment on how to make best use of community charge revenue.

Mr. Jessel

Will my right hon. and learned Friend tell the trade union representatives the excellent news that since the introduction of the waiting list money, in the past year the waiting list for orthopaedic operations at West Middlesex hospital has dropped from 899 to 557, which is a drop of 38 per cent., while there has also been a drop of 45 per cent. in the waiting list for ear, nose and throat operations?

Mr. Clarke

I congratulate Hounslow and Spelthorne on what it has achieved, by a combination of the money that we have given it through the waiting list initiative, and good management, and by studying the causes of the long waiting lists in the first place, which were by no means all financial. I am told that one of its best achievements is that the number of people waiting for an operation for more than one year has dropped by 50 per cent. in the past 12 months. That is a considerable achievement by that health authority for the benefit of all its patients.