HC Deb 24 May 1995 vol 260 cc891-2
7. Mr. Foulkes

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met the chairs of NHS trusts in Scotland to discuss wages and service provision in Scottish hospitals. [24229]

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

My noble and learned Friend the Minister of State last met NHS trust chairmen on 20 January 1995 to discuss a range of issues.

Mr. Foulkes

Will the Minister admit that his written answer to me yesterday shows that the Government's claim that nurses across Scotland would be offered 3 per cent. is entirely bogus? The truth is total chaos and disarray, with only eight of 47 trusts offering 3 per cent. without strings, and all the others seeking to reduce nurses' conditions of service by removing statutory holidays or making other changes? Will he now reintroduce collective bargaining on a national basis, and give all nurses the increase that they richly deserve—without strings and without delay?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The answer is no, but the hon. Gentleman will be glad to hear that the three trusts in Ayrshire have said that they intend to offer 3 per cent., dependent on local negotiations. The great advantage of local negotiations is that local pay can be an important step towards making services more responsive to local needs. Local pay does not necessarily mean less pay; it means fair pay, taking local circumstances properly into account.

Mr. Ernie Ross

Once the actual pay round is settled, what evidence does the Minister have that national health service trusts will take account of service provision? The model used by the Scottish Office to get rid of acute beds is under severe strain, particularly in Dundee. We were originally given assurances that Kings Cross hospital would be used as a back-up if the economic model for acute beds did not work out. We are now told that Dundee Teaching Hospitals NHS trust has considered closing that hospital. What evidence does the Minister have that NHS trusts have taken account of the fact that the economic model used by the Scottish Office to get rid of acute beds may not work?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

The principle is clear: no patient should be discharged from hospital unless there is a bed provided within the local community. Ministers are not entitled to play any part in clinical decisions which are necessarily matters for the health service. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to see that Dundee Healthcare trust made an offer of 3 per cent. with conditions. The £143 million extra for the health service this year will provide considerable assistance towards settling these matters satisfactorily.

Mr. George Robertson

When the Minister last met the chairmen of the health trusts, did he express any shame about the fact that his Department is now pushing the NHS towards privatisation in Scotland? Is not the evidence for that seen in what is happening in Stonehaven today, where Grampian health board is being obliged by the Scottish Office to offer any or all hospital services or even the entire new hospital to the private profit-making sector? When the Prime Minister told the Tory party conference in 1991 that there would be no … privatisation of health care, neither piecemeal, nor in part, nor as a whole", people listened to him. Now, they will concentrate on what is happening in Stonehaven. Has not the contrast between those words and the reality of privatisation in the health service led the Conservative party in Scotland into electoral freefall?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

If the hon. Gentleman feels like that, why did he say in January We are not opposed to public/private partnerships"? That is precisely what we are talking about, together with improved services. The great advantage of introducing private sector finance is to make public sector funds go much further while providing improved services.

On Stonehaven, Grampian health board is consulting on the way forward. It intends to take the lead and to tender for the service. It is likely to involve local trusts and general practitioners, but there is the possibility of opening up the tender to private providers. That has not been ruled out. The decision as to who wins will depend upon the level of services and the provision of a better service for patients.