§ 2. Mr. Ancram
To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans she has to promote improved health care in rural areas.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Tom Sackville)
Health authorities have a responsibility for securing services to meet the needs of local people regardless of whether they live in rural or urban areas. We have encouraged health authorities to develop local purchasing to ensure greater sensitivity to the needs of individual communities.
§ Mr. Ancram
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Is he aware that community health care, such as the provision of local hospitals, is especially important in widespread rural areas such as my constituency? Will he encourage the purchasing authorities to recognise that fact in their purchasing policies, perhaps by himself recognising the additional cost of providing health care in rural areas such as mine?
§ Mr. Sackville
The Government are well aware of the need to preserve the fabric of the countryside, which involves not only transport and jobs, but local health services and taking those services as close to people as possible. My hon. Friend will know that over the past few years £4.5 million has been spent on improving and updating the community hospitals in Malmesbury, Corsham, Warminster and Westbury. Furthermore, £8 million is to be spent over the next few years on redeveloping the St. Andrew's site at Chippenham.
§ Mr. Denham
Does the Minister accept that there would be a great deal more money for the improvement of health services in rural areas and in many other areas if national health service funds were not wasted? Why has the Department done so little to sort out the scandal in Wessex regional health authority? Tory Ministers have appointed Tory friends to be chairmen of health authorities, and they have been lobbied by Tory Members to give contracts to companies run by friends of the Tory party. Some £40 million is being wasted. Why has the Minister done nothing about that scandal and why have his predecessors done nothing?
§ Mr. Sackville
I can assure the House that very tight controls are now in place to monitor the procurement of information technology and other equipment. The hon. Gentleman talks about waste. I remind him that, despite limitations on finance, we have put a great deal of money into the health service in recent years. The activity figures continue to go up, more patients are treated and there are more nurses and doctors. Waste is something which we do not recognise.