HC Deb 17 August 1991 vol 195 cc346-7
9. Mr. Watson

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he intends to meet the Greater Glasgow health board to discuss the board's underspend on salaries for the year ending 31 March.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

The Greater Glasgow health board is the best-funded health board in Scotland. Its record on patient care and financial management is excellent.

Mr. Watson

According to the board's own figures, there was an underspend of more than £5 million in the salaries bill for the year ending 31 March 1991. How can the Minister reconcile that with the board's record of driving down staff costs by a variety of means—including delaying regrading exercises for technicians and nurses, and, when it gets round to regrading them, placing them on lower grades than other health boards would? The board has also delayed the filling of vacant posts, sometimes not filling them at all. As a result, the Richmond Park special needs school, which is in my constituency, does not have enough speech and occupational therapists to teach children with problems.

Will the Minister remind the Greater Glasgow health board of its duty to deliver services efficiently to the people of Glasgow, and to ensure that it fully utilises its already inadequate resources to that end?

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Gentleman will recall that he was told in May about the background to the position that has arisen in the school. It has nothing to do with financial circumstances, and everything to do with circumstances resulting from—if I remember rightly—maternity leave.[Interruption.] I was talking about the school. As for the hon. Gentleman's point about speech therapists, he will know of the initiative that we have taken. That initiative—which affects all health boards, not just the Greater Glasgow health board—will provide for a system of contracts between health boards and education authorities.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned a 5 per cent. underspend on salaries. He might also have mentioned the additional money committed by the board for services and supplies. Boards are allowed to carry over up to 1 per cent. of their total spending from one financial year into the next. That is what Greater Glasgow health board has done, no doubt in order to fund some of the splendid improvements in service from which the Glasgow people will benefit in the coming year.

Mr. David Marshall

Is it not an absolute scandal that the board should have such an underspend on salaries when, for example, the ophthalmic surgery waiting list for patients in the east end of Glasgow is in a sorry mess? In a letter sent to me only this week, the chairman of the board told me how long the three categories of patients were having to wait. Urgent cases must wait for up to three months, "soon" cases for 12 to 18 months and routine cases for 18 months to two years.

Should not the board have used some of that underspend to employ additional ophthalmic surgeons to treat people with eyesight problems—or does the Minister feel that such problems do not deserve to be given priority by either the Government or the board?

Mr. Forsyth

If the hon. Gentleman had been listening, he would have heard me say that the underspend was part of the money that is being carried forward into this year's budget. As the Government are setting targets on waiting times which are to be agreed with all health boards, including the Greater Glasgow health board, the board will be able to deploy the money to achieve the quality of service that we are determined to see.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman: if the information that he has given is accurate, the position is unacceptable, and the board will certainly not meet the target set for it.

Mr. Galbraith

Does the Minister not realise that the reason why the Greater Glasgow health board is having to carry over £5 million from last year's budget is the need partly to offset the £13 million cuts required in this year's budget? Is he aware that the board itself predicts that it will require cuts of £40 million in the next two years? That can lead only to a significant deterioration in patient care.

The Minister's chief executive has already met the board, and dismissed its request for additional funds. Will the Minister himself now meet the board to discuss the crisis and avert further damage to the health service in Glasgow and the surrounding area?

Mr. Forsyth

I am sure that everyone who lives in Paisley, Ayr and the surrounding areas of Glasgow will be interested to learn that Labour policy apparently does not support the idea that money should follow patients out to the new hospitals that we have built in those areas to reflect the movement of population. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that resources are being transferred to boards that have been population-gainers and that those boards have benefited from the brand-new hospitals that the Government have built. The Government believe that care should be available where people are and that money should follow the patient. The hon. Gentleman is making a debating point which is unworthy of anyone who seeks to sit on the Government Benches.

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