HC Deb 06 December 1994 vol 251 cc126-8
2. Mrs. Anne Campbell

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps she is taking to implement the recommendations of the Audit Commission.

The Secretary of State for Health (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley)

The Government extended the remit of the Audit Commission to the national health service as part of our health reforms. That is a further demonstration of our commitment to ensuring the proper stewardship, and the effective use, of NHS resources. Both my Department and the NHS always take the commission's reports seriously and ensure that, where necessary, improvements in practice result.

Mrs. Campbell

Has the Secretary of State taken any notice of the representations made to her by Councillor Janet Jones of Cambridgeshire county council about the underfunding of community care? Would the right hon. Lady like to follow her advice to Cambridgeshire county council and get her act together in respect of underfunding of community care? Will she make sure that Government policies are properly funded?

Mrs. Bottomley

One difficulty faced by local government is the regrettable change of political control of many social service departments. The responsible stewardship to which we had become accustomed from Conservative county councils is sadly lacking among many hung or Labour-controlled councils. The county councillor in question has failed to point out that Cambridgeshire had a 20 per cent. increase in funding for personal social services this year—an extra £10 million. Next year, it will increase by another 13 per cent. If Labour-controlled councils are unable to exercise responsible stewardship, it looks bad for the future of local government, and that is the message of the Audit Commission.

Mrs. Roe

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, thanks to Government reforms, NHS expenditure is now subject to the careful scrutiny of the Audit Commission's external auditors? Is that not particularly important, given the substantial extra money that the Government are giving the NHS? When will my right hon. Friend be in a position to detail how that money will be allocated between different health regions next year?

Mrs. Bottomley

I endorse my hon. Friend's comments. The substantial increase in NHS funding is recognition of the priority that we attach to the service. A £1.3 billion cash boost will be available, and much better value for money will be achieved because of the measures in hand. I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that I am placing in the Library and in the Vote Office today details of allocations to regions of next year's extra funding. Her region of North Thames will receive an additional £153 million.

Mr. Hinchliffe

Does the Secretary of State recall that the Audit Commission report "Finding a Place" made specific reference to problems arising in the allocation of resources for community care? Is she aware that at least 12 local authorities controlled by various political parties have run out of care funding, with four months still left before the end of the current financial year? Is it not a disgrace that pensioners are having to go to court to obtain basic care services? Should not the Secretary of State, rather than local councils, be in the dock?

Mrs. Bottomley

It is extremely irresponsible to exploit old and vulnerable people's fears about the discharge of the responsibilities that, as the hon. Gentleman knows full well, local government wanted to take on. This year, local government has an extra £1.2 billion for community care. Those are very substantial sums indeed. Next year, the increase will be 10 per cent.

So, overall, local government spending on social services will have doubled in four years. Every local authority in the country has extra money for personal social services this year, but all of them must learn the message that the health service had to learn—that each year contains 12 months, not nine. Running out of money after nine months and frightening old and vulnerable people is irresponsible. Good stewardship is the only way in which to get the trust of the public.

Mr. Whittingdale

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Audit Commission estimated that some £50 million could be saved if general practitioners prescribed just 20 generic drugs? Will she take further steps to encourage generic substitution, and in particular, measures such as the institution of a tick-in system on the prescription form?

Mrs. Bottomley

My hon. Friend makes a further suggestion on how we can curb the rising costs of prescribing. A particularly succesful measure has been the introduction of GP fundholding. The prescribing increases of GP fundholders are going up by 3 or 4 per cent. less than those of non-fundholding GPs. There are many measures to be considered. It is quite clear that, with the extra money that the taxpayer has made available to the health service, we have a duty to ensure that we root out waste and use the money saved in that way as effectively as possible for the benefit of patients.

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