HC Deb 18 March 1997 vol 292 cc718-9
10. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on his plans to improve patient care in the NHS. [19171]

Mr. Dorrell

Over the next five years, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has pledged that we shall increase the real resources available to the national health service year on year on year on year on year. We challenge Labour to match that pledge.

Mr. Winterton

The House must warmly welcome the commitment given by the present Conservative Government to increase spending for every year of the next Parliament if they are re-elected. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not just the amount of money spent on health care that is important—we spend a great deal— but the level of service provided? That service has made the United Kingdom national health service the very best in the world. The Opposition have failed to match our pledge on resources, and they would fail to deliver the best service in the world as well.

Mr. Dorrell

My hon. Friend is right. It is not simply a pledge year on year on year on year on year through the next Parliament. It is the 18 years since 1979—I will not say it 18 times—in which the Government have increased the resources available to the NHS year on year. We have delivered a growing NHS, and a wider range of care is available to patients. More patients are being treated and better-quality care is being provided. That is the Government's record on the NHS and we are pledged to project it through the five years of the next Parliament. The problem that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) has with Mr. Charlie Whelan is that the hon. Gentleman is unable to match the pledge that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has given for the next five years.

Mr. Stevenson

Is the Secretary of State aware that plans for patient care at the North Staffordshire hospital trust have been brought into question by the resignation of the chief executive, Mr. Stuart Gray? The reasons for that resignation are clouded in secrecy. Will the right hon. Gentleman institute an urgent investigation into that departure in the public interest, so that the real reasons can be established?

Mr. Dorrell

Changes in trust management are matters handled in the first instance by the trust's board. What the hon. Gentleman has to explain to the citizens of north Staffordshire—as all Labour Members must explain to their constituents—is how Labour can even begin to talk about support for the NHS when it is not prepared to match its words with real commitments. The Conservative party has shown real commitment in action. The last Government to cut the resources available to the national health service was the Labour Government between 1974 and 1979. Health resources in 1979 were lower than in 1976. The Labour party must explain its record and explain how it turns its words into action.

Mr. Garnier

Does my right hon. Friend accept that one of the best ways of improving patient care is by increasing the number of general practices that are fundholding? What does he make of the remarks of the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) on one day that he would abolish fundholders and on the next, to a different newspaper, that he would not? Which Mr. Smith should we believe—or do they both have Sun-stroke?

Mr. Dorrell

Unfortunately for Britain's patients, but fortunately for the Conservative party, the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) has since made it clear which of those policies he supports: a Labour Government would abolish fundholding. Because Labour is committed to the abolition of a scheme that has delivered real improvements to patients, the question about how to deliver real improvements to the patients of the national health service can have only one answer: re-elect a Conservative Government.