HC Deb 18 March 1997 vol 292 cc712-4
5. Ms Eagle

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans he has for use of the private sector in clinical services in the NHS. [19165]

12. Mr. Cunliffe

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on the use of the private finance initiative in respect of clinical services in the NHS. [19173]

Mr. Dorrell

The private finance initiative in the national health service is concerned with the provision of modern and efficient facilities for the delivery of NHS health care. It is not concerned with the transfer of NHS clinical services to the private sector.

Ms Eagle

How can the people of Britain believe the Secretary of State when they look at the PFI contract for the Royal Hallamshire extension in Sheffield, which includes the privatisation of radiology and pathology services? Do not they, like Opposition Members, know that the Tories cannot be trusted on the NHS? All Tories want is to get as much of it into the private sector as possible.

Mr. Dorrell

The hon. Lady will no doubt keep repeating the mantra, but she will cut no ice. People know that, over the past 18 years, we have delivered a broader range of high-quality care to all patients who need it. That is the commitment that the Conservative party has delivered, about which the Labour party is content only to talk.

Mr. Cunliffe

Does not the Minister understand that, despite the secrecy about clinical services, the creeping privatisation is well known to people in the country? Once again, no reassurance has been given today that a future Conservative Government—heaven forbid—would not take the opportunity to privatise. Does he not understand that people know that, over the past 18 years, the Government have looted the wealth of those who created it and intend, through the internal market, to loot the health of public services by introducing private services? Will he try at least to give a positive answer instead of the same old corny comments on clinical services that he has given up to now?

Mr. Dorrell

The hon. Gentleman's slightly convoluted question might be clearer if he sought to explain the Labour party's policy on the hospital building programme to his constituents and people throughout the country. What the Government have set out is crystal clear. We have launched the PFI, which holds the prospect of long-needed hospital building programmes in Norwich, Dartford, Bishop Auckland, north Durham, Worcester, Calderdale, Bromley, Hereford and Carlisle. Labour's Front Benchers must explain to the people why they would put all those projects on hold.

Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith

Is my right hon. Friend aware that even the more socialist countries in the European Union allow and encourage independent health care organisations to supplement the statutory authorities' expenditure on health? Statistics on the proportion of gross domestic product spent on health show that we spend the same as other countries in the public sector; the extra that enables them to boast that they spend more than us is made up by independent care organisations, which are rejected by the Opposition.

Mr. Dorrell

My hon. Friend is right about the arithmetic. It is also worth reflecting on the point that British citizens have exactly the same opportunity to obtain private health care insurance as citizens of other countries, but a smaller proportion of the British find it necessary to do so because the national health service commands a confidence that comparable organisations elsewhere do not. The reality is that the British national health service is the world's most efficient health care system. An endorsement of that principle from the Opposition occasionally would make a welcome change.

Mrs. Roe

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the trade union Unison is wholly opposed to the private finance initiative in the NHS? Given the pecuniary relationship between that union and the offices of Labour Front Benchers, what credence does he give to the claim by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) that he wants to speed up the PFI in health care?

Mr. Dorrell

The Opposition cannot work out their attitude to the PFI in health care. They say they want to speed it up; they also describe it as the privatisation initiative. We have heard this afternoon the Opposition's visceral suspicion of any suggestion that private capital and management can reinforce the delivery of NHS objectives. They oppose it before they hear the arguments. That is why the Government and the Conservative party, re-elected in the next Parliament, will deliver improvements in the national health service that the Labour party could never dream of.

Mr. Chris Smith

Why does the Secretary of State not have the honesty to admit that the Tory agenda is a piece-by-piece privatisation of the national health service? Will he now confirm what he failed to say a few minutes ago—that, at the Royal Hallamshire hospital in Sheffield, radiology and pathology will be put out to the private sector? He and his colleagues have consistently refused to give a guarantee that they will not privatise clinical services. Will he give such a guarantee now? If he will not, and if the Tories are elected again, we will not have a national health service in five years' time.

Mr. Dorrell

That beggars belief. I gave the hon. Gentleman due warning, and he still comes to the Dispatch Box and calls the PFI privatisation. The last time he mentioned the subject, he said that Labour promised to speed up PFI deals. Now he calls it privatisation. The hon. Gentleman must sort out his ideas—and he does not have long in which to do so.

Mr. Booth

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is staggering that two of the first three questions tabled by Opposition Members relate to complaints about the private sector? Does he agree that that says something about their priorities? The right priorities for the national health service are patient care, standards, and more money, which we will deliver.

Mr. Dorrell

My hon. Friend is right on every count. We have the commitment to deliver a growing health service, which the Labour party will not match. We have the commitment to deliver a properly managed health service, which the Labour party will not match. We also have the commitment to deliver quality of care to patients, which the Labour party regards as a boring detail.