HC Deb 09 December 1997 vol 302 cc780-1
3. Mr. Clifton-Brown

What representations he has received on changes to the distribution formula for allocating resources to local health authorities. [18229]

Mr. Dobson

The allocation formula for 1998–99 was changed better to reflect the health needs of local populations in every part of the country. That was announced on 29 October 1997, Official Report, columns 828–29. I have received no representations on that matter since that date.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I am about to make a representation. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the formula was altered according to deprivation, the effect of which is to channel resources away from rural areas towards urban areas, with the result that the increase for next year will be only 1.35 per cent. in my constituency, as opposed to 2 per cent. nationally? That led to a public meeting in Cirencester, which was attended by 500 people, to protest about cuts in the accident and emergency department. Is it not wholly unfair that resources are being channelled from rural areas towards urban areas? My constituents should have a fair share of the national cake.

Mr. Dobson

As the elected Member for Holborn and St. Pancras—there are few more urban constituencies in the world—I can tell the hon. Gentleman that my health authority received exactly the same percentage increase as his. The changes were made in an effort to introduce more fairness into the allocation. The hon. Gentleman apparently does not know that, for the first time in the history of the national health service, an element of rurality was added to the formula to benefit rural areas. No Conservative Government ever did that, so the hon. Gentleman should be grateful.

Mr. Olner

I welcome the changes that the Secretary of State has announced. Will they work their way through to Warwickshire health authority where for many years the south of the county, where morbidity figures are low, has received more funding than my constituency of Nuneaton in the north, where morbidity figures are high? Are morbidity figures being taken into account in the new review and the reallocation of resources?

Mr. Dobson

Mortality and morbidity statistics obviously formed a major part of the formula. However, we are not satisfied with the present formula and have set up a group to study it in time for further changes. The aim must be to allocate funds to those areas most in need, and the areas with high levels of mortality and of morbidity—in other words, sickness—must take priority.

Mr. Ian Bruce

I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that the national health service has been a leader in information technology and getting information to Ministers so that they can deal with problems. Has he read the Financial Times this morning in which professors suggest that the year 2000 problem will affect the NHS badly, and could cause deaths? Is he aware that the IT systems are already overloaded by the work being done on that problem, and that the announcement that he is to make at 3.30 pm in relation to more changes to the IT systems will cause a crisis in IT departments in the NHS?

Mr. Dobson

For a start, only a fool would regard the information technology systems in the NHS as satisfactory. I should certainly not address any laudatory remarks to them. They are incapable of supplying some of the most basic information that people might require. We want the health service to have information systems that help patients and help clinicians to provide better, quicker and more effective treatment. We shall get on with that. Since coming to power, we have taken action to deal with the 2000 problem. The main problem is not in the information technology systems, but in the embedded chips in all sorts of health service machinery, including scanners and other vital equipment in operating theatres. That is being addressed. It will be dealt with, but it will cost money.