HC Deb 20 June 1995 vol 262 cc141-3
5. Mr. David Shaw

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how much money she estimates will be saved from the abolition of regional health authorities. [27715]

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

By 1997–98, total annual savings from the abolition of regional health authorities are expected to be around £100 million. Those substantial savings will be retained by the national health service and reinvested in patient care.

Mr. Shaw

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that that £100 million would be lost if Labour were ever to implement its policies on the reforms of the national health service? Is it not true that the reforms in the NHS to date have helped my constituents immensely? Are not more in-patient and out-patient cases being treated, and are there not seven new consultants in the South-East Kent health trust?

Mrs. Bottomley

My hon. Friend is correct in saying that the Labour party proposals would simply increase levels of bureaucracy, with no possible benefit to patients. My hon. Friend has seen the way in which improvements have taken place in his constituency, as they have throughout the country, with extra consultants, falling waiting times and improved services. The Labour party simply offers promises to its trade unions, and nothing for patients.

Mrs. Mahon

Will the Secretary of State ensure that some of that money is earmarked for the Halifax district hospital? We have been waiting for it to be built for 20 years. Will she also stop the Calderdale trust from closing down the purpose-built Northowram hospital until the new hospital is built? Can she give a date on which construction will start?

Mrs. Bottomley

I know that the hon. Lady will greatly appreciate the fact that, on average, the Government have been able to open one £1 million capital project every week that we have been in office. There has been an unprecedented sustained programme of investment in the national health service. She will understand that changing medicine and changing therapeutic styles inevitably mean a changing structure in the health service in this country, as it is changing in every country in the world. Only the Labour party, with its luddite habits and its resistance to change, would pay the price of failing to give patients the best possible health care. We will continue to make progress as soon as we can.

Mr. Rowe

Will my right hon. Friend take courage from the success of this first assault on the multi-level bureaucracy of the national health service? As the NHS trusts grow in confidence and competence, will she assure the House that she will give them more freedom and less overweening bureaucracy from the top?

Mrs. Bottomley

I can indeed give that assurance. The freedoms of NHS trusts are part of the reason why they have been able to develop more responsive and better quality care for their patients, and not least why they have been able to design the pay structures of staff who work within them. The Labour party's research expenses are funded by Unison, yet Unison is demanding a payback on those research costs by requiring the Labour party only ever to take forward policies that would increase bureaucracy and undermine benefits for patients. We are keeping a book. Every commitment made by the Labour party reduces service and increases costs. Only the union paymasters benefit.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Bearing in mind the fact that GPs are now working an average of 62 hours a week, will the Minister consider committing some of the savings of which she has spoken to the six essential points which need to be met to solve the GPs' out-of-hours problem? In particular, and before the GPs meet tomorrow, will she consider telling them that she is prepared to use some of those savings to deal with the issues of valuing work load, valuing the work done by GPs, and the patient education needed to reduce out-of-hours calls?

Mrs. Bottomley

In my view, there are many areas for discussion with GPs. A work programme which looked at the work load of GPs was submitted to the review body, and it revealed that, although their work had increased by about 2 per cent., pay had increased by about 8 per cent. in the years considered. We have not only met the review body recommendations in full, but have agreed to a number of mechanisms to help GPs share the load of out-of-hours cover.

In addition, we have put on the table £45 million to help with the development of co-operatives. We want a constructive outcome, and we believe that there are many areas for discussion with GPs, which I hope will continue—not least their fair comments about encouraging the public to use their services responsibly and not to call them out inappropriately.

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