HC Deb 13 February 1996 vol 271 cc793-5
7. Mr. Lidington

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement about the impact of the private finance initiative on the hospital building programme. [13310]

Mr. Dorrell

The NHS has so far seen schemes worth more than £200 million approved under the private finance initiative. The momentum is increasing, and is providing modern tools to NHS professional staff to allow them to deliver an ever-improving quality of health care to patients.

Mr. Lidington

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the warm welcome that has been given in the South Buckinghamshire NHS trust, which I visited last week, to the £35 million rebuilding programme for High Wycombe and Amersham hospitals, announced under the private finance initiative late in 1995? Does my right hon. Friend agree that that welcome project will provide improved services for patients and better working conditions for NHS staff? Does he also agree that the project provides a telling contrast to the policy of savage cuts in hospital building that was imposed by the Labour party when it was in office?

Mr. Dorrell

My hon. Friend is precisely right on each count, and I shall add one more. The project to which my hon. Friend refers has commanded widespread support among the clinical fraternity working in the same hospital because they understand that the PFI route that has been chosen by the trust offers the best prospect for them to improve the quality of care provided to their patients.

Mr. McLeish

The only one.

Mr. Dorrell

The hon. Gentleman says "the only one"—the Government have increased state-funded capital expenditure in the NHS by 80 per cent. in real terms over the figure that they inherited. We have further improved the prospect of capital investment by abolishing the controls that were the necessary concomitant of the old-fashioned means of capital planning.

Mr. Ieuan Wyn Jones

Does the Secretary of State recognise that that sort of initiative is often not appropriate in many scattered and rural communities? Will the Secretary of State make it clear that public finance should be available where trusts start to adopt that policy and find that the necessary money is not available?

Mr. Dorrell

Public finance remains available to support the capital investment programme of the NHS. But we are looking for partnerships with the private sector to allow us to modernise the capital stock for NHS patients wherever they need their health care. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is any reason to sign rural patients out of that deal. The PFI offers the best prospect for improving the capital stock of the national health service wherever its patients need health care.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the PFI is an excellent way to lever capital from the private sector into the health service? Could he rationalise the recent actions by the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) with her statement on the "Today" programme that the PFI provides a ramp for privatisation in the health service?

Mr. Dorrell

My hon. Friend is on to an important point. The Labour Front-Bench team seems to be in difficulties. The Leader of the Opposition said in the House that the PFI was "right in principle". The hon. Lady says on the "Today" programme that the PFI is a new trick to privatise the health service. Presumably they cannot both be right.

Mr. Barron

Are not clinicians in this country suspicious of the PFI and what is behind it? A few months ago, the Secretary of State said that clinical services would not be run by private companies. But clinical services are currently being privatised by the use of market testing. When will the Secretary of State stand up in the House and give a definition of clinical services? He knows, as I do, that many clinicians are suspicious that the measure is no more that a vehicle to privatise the national health service.

Mr. Dorrell

The hon. Gentleman is completely wrong. In my answer to the original question I referred to the fact that where a set of clinicians was presented with a specific proposal for the modernisation of its hospital, it did not simply accept it, it warmly embraced it because it saw an opportunity to improve the service available to its patients. As to the hon. Gentleman's question about what a clinical service is, and, indeed, what a clinical support service is—which the hon. Gentleman did not mention, although he might have done—they are both well-known terms of art within the health service. The scope of those terms is well defined.

Mr. Garnier

My right hon. Friend will know from the county that we both represent that there have been tremendous improvements, both in terms of new building and rebuilding, at the major acute hospitals in Leicestershire: the Glenfield general, the Leicester general and the Royal infirmary. Will he confirm that he will do all in his power to influence the health trusts in that county to make use of the PFI further to improve the capital building project system in our county?

Mr. Dorrell

I can certainly assure my hon. and learned Friend that exactly the same opportunity is open to all the Leicestershire health trusts, as to every other trust throughout the national health service, to use access to both private capital and private management of health service facilities to give NHS clinicians the tools to improve the quality of care available to NHS patients. The PFI offers the national health service an escape from the bind in which it has been caught since the day it was established—short-term capital planning being dictated by short-term, Treasury-inspired horizons. We are now free of that as a result of the PFI, and I should like to have seen Labour Members celebrating that freedom.