HC Deb 23 March 1993 vol 221 cc754-6
8. Sir Roger Moate

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if she will make a statement on progress in establishing hospital trusts.

10. Mr. Skinner

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what, at the latest available date, was the total number of NHS trusts.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

The number of fully operational national health service trusts is 156. This will increase to 293 from 1 April 1993. It is clear that trusts are the management model of service provision for the future. With each successive wave, enthusiasm and support are increasing.

Sir Roger Moate

Does my right hon. Friend recall the almost hysterical opposition of the Labour party to NHS trusts? Will she contrast that with the widespread welcome and growing enthusiasm for what is proving to be the most successful form of devolved management and local responsibility? Is not the concept so successful that very soon most hospitals will be managed in that way and very soon we will have the support even of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner)? It will not be long before the Liberal party claims that it thought of the idea first.

Mrs. Bottomley

To use the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff), "They got it wrong and we got it right." National health service trusts are here to stay. They are good for patients and for staff. It must be said that throughout the country NHS trusts are treating more patients to a better standard and are reducing waiting times. I will wait and see whether we will convince the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) at this stage.

Mr. Skinner

Will the Minister confirm that the first wave of hospital trusts cost the British taxpayer £1.17 billion just to set them up; that it cost a further £800 million for the second wave and another £1 billion for the third wave, making £3 billion in all which has been taken from taxpayers' pockets just to set the trusts up? The Government are now calling on pensioners to pay more VAT. If those trusts are so good, why do not Tory Members use them? Why do not the majority of Cabinet members use them? Is not it remarkable that the Government have double standards—trusts for people out there, but they will not touch them with a barge pole? That is why I will be voting to take them back into the national health service where they belong.

Mrs. Bottomley

I am very surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman's comments. Having been to a great many NHS trust hospitals and used the services of those trusts, I do not know for whom he is speaking. As ever, he has turned down the opportunity to tell the House what is happening at his local hospital, which will become a trust on 1 April. Like all other members of the Labour party, he always takes the opportunity to denigrate the achievements of the national health service, rather than sing its praises. Let me tell my hon. Friends that the Chesterfield and North Derbyshire royal hospital treated an extra 2,700 patients this year. That hospital, which is to become a trust on 1 April, will have no patients waiting for 18 months and very few waiting for more than 12 months. The hon. Gentleman's constituents who use it benefit from an ever-higher standard of health care. When it becomes a trust, it will, like others, go from strength to strength.

Dame Jill Knight

Has my right hon. Friend yet been able to persuade, cajole or charm the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) to say whether a Labour Government would abolish trusts? Does she think that the hon. Gentleman's reluctance to speak—

Madam Speaker

Order. As the hon. Lady is aware, the Secretary of State has no responsibility for the attitude of any other hon. Member. Her responsibility is for the policy of her Department. Will the hon. Lady please rephrase her question?

Dame Jill Knight

Will my right hon. Friend ensure the safety of hospital trusts, whoever may be in charge of them in the future? The citizens of Birmingham, where trusts are becoming very popular, are determined that we should hold to this policy, as it is undoubtedly the best means of serving patients.

Mrs. Bottomley

It is almost a year since the general election, yet the Labour party still has a policy-free zone in respect of the health service and NHS trusts. Perhaps on 1 April, when a further 138 trusts are established, the Opposition will declare that they have been April fools and will see the light. I refer Labour Members to remarks of the previous Labour spokesman on health, the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who, two years ago, challenged the Secretary of State for Health to measure the success of those trusts that opted out by the simple test of whether they do more or less work on NHS patients."—[Official Report, 17 April 1991; Vol. 189, c. 457.] They have done more work. It is time for Labour Members to think about the present and the future and leave their antediluvian attitudes behind.

Dr. Reid

Apart from devotion to the Conservative party, what are the criteria for appointment to the board of a hospital trust? I put this question because in my area of Lanarkshire there is slight confusion over the announcement that the latest member of the board of Bellshill maternity hospital is a part-time vet. What particular expertise and qualifications will a part-time veterinary surgeon bring to the maternity services of Lanarkshire?

Mrs. Bottomley

We are greatly indebted to all the public-spirited men and women who have served as chairmen and non-executives. The NHS is a major employer—the largest employing organisation—and it needs good management skills. Board members come from a range of backgrounds. But I understand the difficulty of the Labour party. Whereas Conservative Members appreciate the service of those who bring skills from the private sector, the employment spokesman of the Labour party, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), has said of company directors: We are envious of their wealth. These people are stinking, lousy, thieving, incompetent scum. If that is the Labour party's attitude to people who serve in the NHS, I well understand why the nation has no confidence in the party.