HC Deb 14 May 1996 vol 277 cc753-5
5. Mr. Robathan

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how much has been spent on major NHS building projects over the last four years. [27985]

7. Mr. Luff

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many major NHS building projects have been completed since 1979. [27987]

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Stephen Dorrell)

The total spent on major national health service building projects over the past four years is £1.36 billion. Approximately 860 major NHS building projects were completed between 1 April 1980 and 31 March 1996.

Mr. Robathan

The House must find it puzzling to compare the picture of the national health service painted by Opposition Members with the reality of capital investment in NHS hospitals over the past four years. My right hon. Friend will know about the three excellent general hospitals in Leicestershire.

Madam Speaker

Order. I have not heard a question yet.

Mr. Robathan

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, by the time that he opens yet another new project at Leicester royal infirmary on Friday, £48 million will have been invested in that constituency alone, to the benefit of all the people of Leicestershire, including my constituents and his?

Mr. Dorrell

My hon. Friend is right. He could also have mentioned that of the more than 800 major projects completed since 1980, one was the new Glenfield hospital in his constituency. That represented a major new investment, typical of the investment boom in the NHS over the past 15 years.

Mr. Luff

Will my right hon. Friend give me his personal assurance that he will do all that he can to add a new Worcester royal infirmary to that fine record, by facilitating the signing of contracts in the autumn? Does he agree that the staff, who at the last count had reduced to only 200 the number of people waiting for more than six months, with no one waiting more than nine months, deserve the new hospital, bearing in mind the increasing decrepitude of the current buildings?

Mr. Dorrell

My hon. Friend seeks an assurance that we shall proceed with all speed with the proper assessment of the new hospital proposal in Worcester. As he knows, I am a resident of the city of Worcester, and I remember the story of the delays in the project, which goes back more than 20 years. I am pleased to have been the Minister responsible for introducing the private finance initiative, which gives my hon. Friend's constituents the best possible assurance that the objectives and ambitions widely shared in the city for many years can at last be realised.

Mr. Barry Jones

In boasting of his billions, is the right hon. Gentleman not confessing that he has been beating up and robbing the Secretary of State for Wales? Why have we not had that type of building programme in Wales? Why cannot the wonderful Deeside community hospital in my constituency be extended? That is what we want.

Mr. Dorrell

I am sure that the investment programme has been continuing throughout the health service in the United Kingdom as a whole, and that Wales, like the rest of the kingdom, will be able to benefit from the new freedom that I have introduced into the national health service through the private finance initiative, which Labour Front-Bench spokesmen opposed. The hon. Gentleman should address the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman), who is the true enemy of investment in the NHS in Wales.

Mr. Spearing

The Secretary of State refers to the advantages of the private finance initiative, but does he not know that at the Newham general hospital, where new building is expected and required, no timetable has been set for it, precisely because of the requirements of the PFI? Why should the people providing capital for those projects inevitably have at least some part in the management of the hospital?

Mr. Dorrell

With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, he is barking up a familiar tree and trying to turn history on its head. He is saying that the PFI is responsible for a delay in the capital investment programme in his constituency, yet the whole history of the national health service is a history of unwarranted delays in required capital investment. It is precisely because the PFI offers escape from that discipline and control that we so much welcome it.

Mr. Jacques Arnold

Will my right hon. Friend emphasise the fact that that excellent hospital building programme will be accelerated by the PFI? Will he, in particular, welcome the £100 million project for the new district general hospital at Darenth park in north-west Kent?

Mr. Dorrell

I can certainly confirm that the project to which my hon. Friend refers is being assessed in the context of the PFI. I share his hope that we shall be able to move the project forward. My hon. Friend—like every other hon. Member, on both sides of the House—can have the assurance that the PFI means that, where there is a demand and a need for an investment programme to proceed, it will now proceed without the distortions and constraints that have been the history of NHS capital investment for very nearly 50 years.

Mr. Barron

Is not the truth of the matter that, in the most recent budget, the Government cut capital expenditure in the NHS by 17 per cent? Is it not also true that the Secretary of State promised the House and the country that, last year, there would be one new hospital a month? Is it not true that hospitals that the country was promised years ago have still not been delivered, and that the PFI has slowed down the building of hospitals—such as that in Swindon and that which was promised on several occasions in Norwich?

At a conference in the City last month, which was attended by the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), a call was made for direct agreements to be made between PFI companies and NHS purchasers. We know what plans the Government have for the new hospital in Scotland, but we and the public want to know whether the Secretary of State will tell us that no such direct contracts will be made and that there will be no privatisation of the NHS.

Mr. Dorrell

The Government have made it abundantly clear that the PFI is not about the privatisation of clinical services. The House and the country would like to know from Labour Front Benchers what their policy is on the issue. The leader of the Labour party says that the PFI is "right in principle". The shadow health spokesman says that the PFI is "a new trick" to privatise the health service. Which of those is the Labour party's attitude—can it decide?