HC Deb 26 October 1994 vol 248 cc884-5
9. Mr. Donohoe

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next expects to meet the chairmen of health boards to discuss finance.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The Minister of State meets chairmen of health boards regularly to discuss a wide range of strategic issues, including those involving finance, affecting the management of the national health service in Scotland. Next week it will take place on 4 November 1994.

Mr. Donohoe

If the Minister was at the Tory party conference and was able to stay awake during his leader's speech, he would have heard him say that the national health service was safe in his hands. Can the Minister therefore tell us why in Ayrshire most patients who go to dentists now have to pay the full price for their treatment? Will he also tell us why in Ayrshire, and in my constituency at Ravenspark geriatric hospital, patients have been transferred to the private sector, which is clearly taking them for profit? How is it possible for the Prime Minister to say that the national health service is safe in his hands?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The new trusts are perfectly free to buy in services if they are in the interests of the patients concerned, are reasonable and are of the necessary quality. There have been significant developments at South Ayrshire hospitals trust, which have been greatly in the interests of the patients. The new magnetic resonance imaging equipment is used, there is a helicopter landing pad to help with patients, a new nurse-led glaucoma clinic, lip-reading classes for patients with impaired hearing, and improved accessibility and choice for patients. With regard to charging, I shall make inquiries into the particular point mentioned by the hon. Gentleman; I will look into the exact circumstances and send him a letter on the matter. Overall, however, the range of services has widened and there have been substantial improvements carried out by the trusts.

Mr. Galbraith

When the Minister's noble Friend meets the chairmen, will he discuss again the issues of poverty and deprivation in Scotland? Does the Minister realise that the major causes of ill health in Scotland are poverty and deprivation and that it is not only the absolute levels, but the relative levels? In other words, the greater the discrepancy between rich and poor, the greater the ill health. Will the Minister discuss with the health board chairmen the Government's role in reducing the gap between rich and poor, which has grown greatly during the Government's reign?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

One effective way of being of assistance is by substantial funding of the national health service in Scotland. I can confirm that for every £100 spent in England on the national health service, £122 is spent in Scotland. Of course, health problems are considerable in areas of grave urban deprivation. That is why a record sum has been allocated through urban aid this year to areas of particular deprivation. Those areas are considered with great care whenever applications come in.

Mr. McAllion

More than £4,000 million has been spent on the Scottish national health service, most of it by the Secretary of State's appointees on health boards and NHS trusts. Does the Minister accept that while the establishment of an independent committee to advise on those appointments is a welcome step in the right direction, it nevertheless leaves a yawning democratic deficit at the heart of spending on the NHS in Scotland? Quangos are not made more accountable or more democratic simply by setting up a super-quango to watch over them. Does the Minister accept that only the establishment of a Scottish Parliament, elected by the Scottish people, will close that democratic deficit and that it is not for the Secretary of State for Scotland, but for the Scottish people—and only the Scottish people—to decide how their money is spent on their health service?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment as Opposition spokesman. On the previous major housing Bill, we were the only Scots Members of Parliament sitting in on proceedings so, for me, he is continuing an old role which he occupied in the past. In Tayside, some £245 million is being spent. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, so far as we are concerned, appointments are made on merit. That is why we appointed two persons who claim no affiliation with the Tory party—Campbell Christie and Lord Ewing, who is well known to the hon. Gentleman and who was a Scottish Office Minister a few years ago under the Labour Government. Persons are and will be appointed on merit.