HC Deb 06 December 1994 vol 251 cc131-3
6. Mr. Burden

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what is the financial value of NHS contracts placed with the private sector in (a) 1993–94 and (b) 1988–89.

Mr. Malone

The total financial value of all contracts placed by the national health service with the private sector is not known. The NHS has been a substantial purchaser from external suppliers since its inception.

Mr. Burden

Is the Minister aware that he is at least being consistent? In answer to a written question that I tabled last week, the Under-Secretary also said that Ministers did not know the number of patients being treated in the private sector, the costs or even how many were involved. Does the Minister agree that the Opposition have perhaps been a little unfair in accusing Ministers of knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing, and that Ministers in the Department of Health know neither?

Mr. Malone

The hon. Gentleman obviously seeks an answer, and if he had tabled the right question, he would have got one. If he is interested in the private health care that is purchased from the NHS, I can tell him that in the South Birmingham health authority in 1993–94, the total was £2.3 million. The national figure for 1992–93 was £267 million. I wonder whether we are seeing part of the dinosaur Labour party—the Leader of the Opposition is perfectly content to break down policy boundaries and use grant-aided schools. Are we seeing some sort of division between health care in the public sector and in the private sector? If the hon. Gentleman looks at the glossy brochure published by the Labour council in Hammersmith and Fulham, he will find private health care advertised there. Clearly, people in Hammersmith and Fulham are well ahead of the hon. Gentleman.

Dame Jill Knight

Does my hon. Friend agree that it does not matter whether NHS contracts are placed with the private sector so long as patients are being treated? Will he deplore the blind dogma of the Labour party that it does not matter whether patients wait a long time for treatment or are a long time being treated, but a partnership between the NHS and the private sector must not happen?

Mr. Malone

My hon. Friend will not be surprised to hear that I agree with her. She highlights the dogma of the Opposition, who are more interested in who treats patients than in whether patients are treated. I thought that as the Labour party's clause IV on nationalisation of the means of production was being reviewed there might be less infatuation with who was treating whom in the health service and that whether people received better care might be the main issue.

Mrs. Beckett

How can the Minister agree with his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) and, indeed, how can she assert that it does not matter whether patients are treated in the public sector or the private sector when we know from the Government's waiting lists initiative that it costs five times as much to treat patients in the private sector? The Secretary of State is always bleating about value for money. Surely that means, ultimately, that fewer patients will be treated for the same money because the Government are dogmatically insisting on sending them into the private sector. Is that not a waste of money and a denial of care?

Mr. Malone

No, it is not. I am aware of the figures from which the right hon. Lady selectively quotes. If she considers the figures procedure by procedure, she will find that people who were treated in the private sector were treated at a far better cost. Would she say to her constituents that they should wait for treatment rather than be treated in the private sector? I suppose that she is endorsing that sort of dogma today.

Mr. John Marshall

Will my hon. Friend confirm that competitive tendering has saved the NHS many tens of millions of pounds and provided the resources to treat more and not fewer patients?

Mr. Malone

Yes. The whole point about health service reforms—not just those involving competitive tendering—is that the benefits and savings go directly back into patient care.That is why there has been a substantial increase in activity for given amounts of taxpayers' money since the reforms were put in place.