HC Deb 16 April 1996 vol 275 cc495-6
3. Mrs. Bridget Prentice

To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he last met the chief executives of the national health service trusts to discuss market testing. [23465]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. John Horam)

I am in regular contact with a wide range of people in the national health service, including chief executives, about ways to improve NHS services for the benefit of patients.

Mrs. Prentice

Does the Minister acknowledge that market testing is forcing NHS clinical services, such as haematology, pathology, anaesthetics and radiography, into the private sector? Will he admit that market testing—alongside the private finance initiative—is part of the Tory Government's plan to privatise the NHS?

Mr. Horam

The problem for the Labour party is quite the reverse: market testing of services in the NHS has saved it £1 billion since 1983. I do not know whether the Labour party would return those resources if it had to abolish or be critical of what is going on. The fact is that they are extremely small beer when it comes to clinical services, as the hon. Lady must be aware. They comprise a certain amount of pharmacy, sterile services and pharmacology and the rest is very small beer indeed.

Mrs. Roe

Does my hon. Friend agree that market testing is not about promoting the private sector over the public sector, nor indeed the other way around? Will not the winners of competitive tenders—whether NHS, in-house or external bidders—always be determined by quality of service and value for money?

Mr. Horam

My hon. Friend is right. The only one to gain from the market testing that has occurred is the NHS patient. We now have more resources to spend on real clinical benefits for the NHS patient.

Mr. Barron

When will the Minister recognise that doctors and patients are very worried about the Government's drive towards market testing inside the NHS? They view market testing as a way for the Government to force NHS trusts to privatise clinical services. The cuts in health service finances are leading increasingly to either private finance or no finance for clinical support services. When will it stop? Everyone knows that the Government's agenda is to privatise the national health service—neither the clinicians nor the general public want that.

Mr. Horam

The hon. Gentleman talks about our drive towards market testing. The fact is that the drive is now locally led by NHS trusts, who are going far beyond what they have been asked to do and are moving into areas such as maintenance, repairs, estate management and legal services. Market testing is providing those services with better value for money, and that is a huge gain for the ordinary patient.

Mr. Dunn

Will my hon. Friend confirm that he receives no money from the trade union UNISON for research or office expenses? If he did, does he believe that his attitude to market testing would be different?

Mr. Horam

I am entirely neutral on such matters.