HC Deb 22 July 1997 vol 298 cc748-9
9. Mr. David Taylor

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how much extra money was allocated to health for 1998–99 as a result of the 1997 Budget. [7951]

Mr. Dobson

In the recent Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced an extra £1 billion for the national health service in England in 1998–99. That, combined with the planned increase of £775 million, amounts to an increase of 2.35 per cent. in real terms—the largest increase for the past four years.

Mr. Taylor

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the Tory plans that he inherited would have meant a real-terms cut in NHS expenditure next year, thus bringing closer the Tories' long-term objective of running down the NHS into a basic safety net service for those unable to afford private care?

Mr. Dobson

I can confirm my hon. Friend's point. Had we not given the extra £1 billion to the national health service next year, there would indeed have been a reduction in the amount of money spent in real terms, resulting from the budget that we inherited from the profligate Tories.

Mrs. Roe

Does the Secretary of State believe that the NHS is underfunded?

Mr. Dobson

Of course it is underfunded; everyone knows that. It has been underfunded since 1948.

Mr. Sheerman

Would my right hon. Friend care to comment on what he could have achieved with the health service if the £5 billion that has been squandered on the bovine spongiform encephalopathy crisis by the previous Government had been available to him to spend?

Mr. Dobson

Indeed. I am going around the country explaining how useful £10 million will be when spent on breast cancer services—we shall announce the details on Thursday. Given the immediate benefits that will flow from just £10 million, it is almost impossible to imagine the improvements that could be made to people's health if we had access to the £5 billion that is squandered on BSE-related compensation as a result of the previous Government's stupidity.

Mr. Simon Hughes

The Secretary of State is fortunate in that this question was altered between the time of tabling and today, to ask about not this year's, but next year's, Budget. However, given that the Minister of State said a minute ago that the trouble with Tory figures was that they were wrong, will the Secretary of State come clean about the figures that follow on from the percentage figure that he gave? The increase to the health service this year is nothing and the increase next year, after taking inflation into account, is significantly less than £1 billion—right or wrong?

Mr. Dobson

For a start, the Budget that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced was basically the Budget for spending, not for this financial year, but for the next financial year—a fact that does not seem to have sunk into some people's minds. The increase that we have announced, together with the increase that was already in the Budget, means that there will be a 2.35 per cent. increase in real terms—more than twice what the Liberal Democrats promised in their election manifesto.

Mr. Martlew

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although budgets are tight, trusts are not collecting money that is owed to them? I am talking about the money that is owed to them by insurance companies as a result of road traffic accidents. What effort is my right hon. Friend making to encourage trusts to collect the many millions of pounds that insurance companies owe the NHS?

Mr. Dobson

As recently as 1988, the previous Government confirmed the law under which insurance companies are supposed to pay up for the cost of treating people who suffer from road accidents. The system that was then introduced brings in practically no money, and we will change the law so that we get the money to which the public purse is entitled from the insurance companies. The amounts vary between £50 million a year, estimated by the Department of Health, and £440 million a year, estimated by the Automobile Association. I look forward to receiving the money, and I am at the moment pondering arrears.

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