HC Deb 13 February 1996 vol 271 cc789-90
3. Mr. Tony Banks

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what estimate he has made of the growth in the private health market since 1979. [13306]

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

The value of the private acute health-care market has increased from an estimated £132 million in 1979 to more than £2 billion in 1994 according to Laing's "Review of Private Healthcare".

Mr. Banks

I cannot recall which party the Minister was in when Margaret Thatcher stood at the Dispatch Box and said that she wanted to make the NHS so good that no one would want to take up private medicine. However, that really has not come about—he has just told us of the enormous growth in the private medicine market. Since Tory reforms, about £1.5 billion has gone out of the NHS to pay for private treatment. Does the Minister accept that that is obscene when people who are waiting for operations can hear radio advertisements which tell them that, if they go private, they can get an operation, and, moreover, that they can borrow the money to pay for it under a finance arrangement? That is obscene, and the Minister should feel ashamed. He has not only let the people of this country down: he has betrayed the words of the blessed Margaret Thatcher.

Mr. Horam

I thought that, these days, the Labour party believed in choice. The hon. Gentleman said in today's Evening Standard that he would like to spend his money on skin toners and vitamins. Why are not other people allowed to make their choices and have waiting times cut and their surgery earlier?

Mrs. Roe

Is my hon. Friend aware of the recent Institute of Fiscal Studies report which found that long waiting times for NHS treatments boost the take-up of private health assurance? Does he agree that the dramatic decrease in 12-month waits, from 20 per cent. of patients to only 2 per cent., is a stunning achievement which strengthens the NHS?

Mr. Horam

Those figures are absolutely right, and they reinforce the point that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who tabled the question, should have done his homework. He will find that the private sector is, in fact, getting extremely tough competition from the NHS for precisely those reasons.