HC Deb 14 November 1991 vol 198 cc1215-6
3. Mrs. Gorman

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will consider extending the opportunity for general practitioners in Northern Ireland to manage their own budgets immediately.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Jeremy Hanley)

I will be issuing next month to every general practitioner in Northern Ireland a prospectus about general practice funds. It will invite expressions of interest in fund holding, which will be available from April 1993.

Mrs. Gorman

Is my hon. Friend aware that there are already 1,700 fund holders in Britain, and that a great many more are in the pipeline? That points to the great success of Conservative health service policies. Does my hon. Friend agree that, now that the Conservative party is formally represented in Northern Ireland and will have candidates in the next general election there, we should remove the anomaly whereby Northern Ireland citizens—who are of course British subjects—have to follow the rest of the United Kingdom? Can he give an assurance that that anomaly will be removed as soon as possible?

Mr. Hanley

Northern Ireland enjoys an integrated system of health and social services care, and therefore there are far greater demands on its health boards in dealing with reforms, which do of course bring massive benefits. The boards have to deal both with health reforms themselves and community care reforms. We are just as determined that people in Northern Ireland should benefit from the Government's reforms, including fund-holding practices, and therefore they will be introduced at the earliest possible date.

Mr. Flannery

I hope that both communities in Northern Ireland will unite against any extension of the Government's desire and mania to privatise the health service.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I know that Conservative Memberts get upset when that is said, but that is the fact of the matter. We can see that the Government's action is another nasty step towards privatisation, and I hope that both sides in Northern Ireland will unite against it.

Mr. Hanley

I want to make it absolutely clear that general practitioners voluntarily choose to run fund-holding practices and are not forced by the Government to do so—and GPs will take that step only if they can see benefits for their patients. Last year, 300 practices in Britain decided that was the way forward, and another 300 have done so this year. Fund-holding practices are gaining ground in popularity, and patients are certainly enjoying the extra benefits that flow from the GPs' scheme.