HC Deb 16 June 1992 vol 209 cc768-9
7. Mrs. Ewing

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many applications she has received for hospital trust status; and if she will make a statement.

Dr. Mawhinney

One hundred and fifty one applications have so far been received from hospitals and other units in England to become operational from April 1993. That is higher than the number of applications in the first or second waves and is a tangible demonstration that staff and managers in the NHS are behind the Government's reforms.

Mrs. Ewing

Given the rise in the number of applications, does the Minister accept that one of the greatest concerns expressed by NHS employees appears to be the determination of trusts to write into their employees' contracts a gagging clause which prevents them from speaking out against or challenging bad practice? Given that a consultation process on the issue is in place, does the Minister accept that every NHS employee should have a legally protected right, preferably through independent channels, to speak out as appropriate to ensure the best level of practice, irrespective of the system?

Dr. Mawhinney

I am glad that the hon. Lady recognises the increasing popularity of trusts. She will be interested to know that about a third of NHS hospital and community health service capacity is now managed by trusts. From next April, that will become about two thirds.

The hon. Lady rightly points out that this is an important issue. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have taken it seriously and have made it clear that consultations are to take place with a view to issuing guidance. I hope that the hon. Lady will accept that that is a serious and considered response on a subject which has caused a certain amount of anxiety to a number of people, not least to the Royal College of Nursing.

Mr. Marland

Having reluctantly accepted our policy on the sale of council houses, our policy for moderate taxation and, more recently, our education reforms, how long will it be before the Labour party also endorses our policy on NHS reforms?

Dr. Mawhinney

My hon. Friend makes his point effectively. There is already some evidence that Opposition Members are beginning to accept that our policies are increasingly commanding support among patients and staff of the NHS. The change in attitude that my hon. Friend predicts, and which I agree will come, will be driven by Opposition Members' constituents.

Mrs. Dunwoody

Is the Minister aware that his last comments were totally and utterly inaccurate? Is he further aware that if he represented an area such as mine, where a trust is already in severe financial difficulty—and where many elderly people are deeply concerned because of an application for a second trust to turn all the elderly and geriatric services into a trust—he would know that his moves are distorting the provision of health care, upsetting the staff, putting many jobs at risk and in general leading to a definite downgrading of health care throughout the NHS?

Dr. Mawhinney

No, I do not accept a word of what the hon. Lady has said because it does not accord with the facts and it certainly does not accord with the popularity of the policies. It is clear that the hon. Lady will be among the last Opposition Members prepared to shed their ideological prejudices.

Mr. Gale

My hon. Friend will be aware of the fact that Thanet district hospital has submitted an excellent application for trust status to enable it to attain full district hospital status and provide the 24 accident and emergency services and other acute services that my constituents require. Will my hon. Friend assure my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) and me that that trust status will be granted as soon as possible?

Dr. Mawhinney

I assure my hon. Friend that, after the consultation process has been followed through—as, statutorily, it must be—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I will give serious consideration to the application.

Forward to