HC Deb 17 October 1990 vol 177 cc1202-3
5. Mr. Nigel Griffiths

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will increase the funding of health boards in Scotland.

The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Mr. Michael Forsyth)

Yes, additional allocations will be made to health boards to take account of the changes in the VAT rules affecting construction. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be delighted to welcome today's announcement of £150,000 towards establishing cochlear ear implant operations and surgery within Lothian district.

Mr. Griffiths

I welcome that drop in the ocean. Will the Minister acknowledge what everyone else in Scotland and in Lothian knows—that when it comes to choosing between creating patient choice or cutting patient services, the Government will cut services every time? When 14,000 patients at the Longmore hospital exercised their choice by expressing their wish that that world-famous hospital be kept open, the Secretary of State backed its disgraceful closure. In view of the incompetent handling of that issue by Lothian health board, will the Minister and the Secretary of State intervene and save Longmore?

Mr. Forsyth

Only the hon. Gentleman could complain about cuts in services in response to an announcement of a new service being established in Lothian. To describe as a drop in the ocean a service which will enable deaf people to hear is symptomatic of the hon. Gentleman's approach to the health service.

The hon. Gentleman said that Longmore is to be closed, but he knows that the service that it provides in terms of breast cancer treatment will continue at the Western general hospital at a unit in which £2 million is to be invested by the health board. That will bring the facility into a hospital where there is an oncology department, with the result that the service to patients will be improved.

It is unworthy of the hon. Gentleman to misrepresent the splendid efforts of Lothian health board to improve services for his constituents throughout its area. The hon. Gentleman delivered a letter about Longmore hospital to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, under the gaze of the cameras, but we did not receive the letter until two days later because he left the Department and posted it. Therefore, he may be unaware of the background, but he should pay tribute to the efforts that Lothian health board has made in respect of Longmore.

Mr. Strang

Does the Minister appreciate that an important element of the chronic underfunding of the health service in Lothian is the inadequate money allocated to it to tackle our AIDS problem? Is he aware that around one twelfth of the people identified as HIV positive in the United Kingdom are in Lothian but that the district receives less than 1 per cent. of the total budget for the United Kingdom, that the short-stay drug crisis centre has been postponed because of lack of money, that there is no long-term residential resettlement centre and that the cost of dealing with people with AIDS and those who are HIV positive will double every year from now on? When will the Government give us the money that we need?

Mr. Forsyth

I know that the hon. Gentleman follows these matters carefully, so he will know that the sum provided for AIDS care in Scotland is £15 million. I believe, from memory, that the share that Lothian receives is £5 million, the bulk of it going to the new unit to provide care for AIDS patients. He needs to distinguish between HIV-positive cases and cases of AIDS. He will be aware that the planning which has gone on in Glasgow, Dundee and Lothian towards provision for AIDS patients has taken account of projected numbers, and we have committed ourselves to providing the necessary resources.

Mr. Ian Bruce

What is the comparison between the funding of Scottish health boards and of English and Welsh health boards? Has my hon. Friend's Department any information about the efficiency with which that money is being used in terms of how it is translated into patient care?

Mr. Forsyth

It is well known that the Scottish health service is better funded than the health service south of the border—for example, by about one third in its hospital services. One of the interesting points about the proposal by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) for the funding of a Scottish assembly is his argument for the principle of equalisation. The health service in Scotland spends twice as much as the health service south of the border on care for the elderly. In the south, that burden lies with local government—yet local government in Scotland still spends more than local government in the south. My hon. Friend was right to draw attention to the considerable investment in the health service in Scotland.