HC Deb 13 February 1996 vol 271 cc788-9
2. Mr. John Greenway

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what proportion of NHS patients are covered by general practitioner fundholders in the Northern and Yorkshire region. [13305]

The Minister for Health (Mr. Gerald Malone)

Forty per cent. of the population in the Northern and Yorkshire region are registered with general practitioner fundholders. We expect that to rise to more than 50 per cent. in April.

Mr. Greenway

Does my hon. Friend agree that fundholding has driven the way through and enabled greater emphasis on a primary care-led NHS, from which all patients benefit? Is he aware, for example, that one first-wave fundholding practice in my constituency has its own consultant clinic for neurology, which treats patients from other practices, whether fundholding or not? Does that not show just how good the NHS is becoming under the Government, and that the best way to secure it is to vote Conservative at the next election?

Mr. Malone

I disagree with my hon. Friend only in one respect. Voting Conservative is not the best way to secure fundholding GPs under the next Government: it is now the only way, because the Labour party is pledged to abolish fundholding.

My hon. Friend is quite right to cite one example of an improvement in primary care through GP fundholding. I congratulate him on espousing the service. Indeed, I understand that, as recently as 10 days ago, he took the cause to the British Medical Association in Scarborough, where he won by 16 votes to 12 a debate on the question "Is the health service safe in this Government's hands?" despite being opposed by the hon. Member for York (Mr. Bayley).

Madam Speaker

Order. I must tell the Minister that his comments did not relate to the question. I may shortly have something to say about hon. Members and Ministers who stray far away from the questions on the Order Paper.

Mr. McLeish

Does the Minister acknowledge that, in the Northern and Yorkshire region, a two-tier health system is operating? Will he confirm that the Central Sheffield Universities Hospitals trust provides conclusive evidence that there are two tiers? Cardiology patients of fundholders wait nine weeks, while those of non-fundholders wait 26 weeks. For hip replacements, patients of fundholders wait 12 weeks while those of non-fundholders wait 26 weeks. Can the Minister justify that, or is he saying that fair waiting lists and a one-nation health service have been abandoned for a two-tier health service—a fundamental part of the unacceptable face of Tory health policy?

Mr. Malone

No, I will not attempt to justify those figures, because they are wrong. Had the hon. Gentleman bothered to read his newspapers this week, he would have seen the purchasing authority's precise reply, which stated exactly what happens between fundholders and non-fundholders and in relation to waiting lists. I shall return to that topic in today's debate. The truth is that non-fundholders' patients are doing marginally better than those of fundholders, so the hon. Gentleman had better be careful when he peddles muddled facts.

Mrs. Ann Winterton

Will my hon. Friend give the House an undertaking that he will not give funds to fundholders in the Northern and Yorkshire region, or anywhere else for that matter, towards the costs of surrogate motherhood on the NHS? Does he agree with me that, sad though the circumstances are surrounding the woman in question, the estimated cost of £15,000 would be better spent on other priorities?

Mr. Malone

I understand the point made by my hon. Friend. That matter raises difficult ethical issues. I can tell her that we shall carefully examine the issues which have been raised in the British Medical Association document and look at those which have been raised more widely.