HC Deb 24 February 1998 vol 307 cc166-7
11. Mr. Rammell

What changes he intends to make to the current role of NHS trusts in shaping local health care. [29325]

Mr. Milburn

National health service trusts will be brought in from the cold and given back their place in the shaping of local health services. In place of competition, NHS trusts will work with the rest of the local health service to plan and deliver the best possible services.

Mr. Rammell

My hon. Friend will be aware that, under the old Tory NHS, trusts often slashed their costs on an unsustainable short-term basis to drive the so-called competition—other hospitals—out of business. Will he confirm that, under Labour's new NHS, that approach will not be acceptable and that co-operation rather than competition will be the way forward? Co-operation was one of the founding principles of the NHS, and that is what the Labour Government are bringing back to the NHS.

Mr. Milburn

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We start from a simple premise: one cannot treat hospitals as if they were supermarkets. The old internal market that the Tories unleashed on the NHS set not only doctor against doctor but hospital against hospital. All that is being swept away; in its place there will be partnership and co-operation, which will truly benefit patients.

Mr. Flight

The new primary care commissioning groups will have a major role in shaping local health care in the future. The only area over which community health councils have no powers is general practice. Will the Minister consider imposing some obligation on primary care commissioning units to consult CHCs in the management of the provision of care?

Mr. Milburn

That is an extremely important question. We want the new primary care groups and trusts to be representative of, and properly to engage with, their local communities. That is why we determined that the boards of the groups and the trusts should include representatives from the public they serve—that will be a helpful step forward. The hon. Gentleman is right; no part of the national health service can be exempt from public scrutiny or from the need to drive up standards and quality.

Mr. Sutcliffe

Will my hon. Friend consider the actions of hospital trusts? The Government are doing excellent work in opening up the partnerships, but will he examine the management costs that trusts are still incurring on administration and premises, as there has been no decrease, particularly in areas such as Bradford?

Mr. Milburn

The Government have instituted two important policy developments. The first is to cut the money spent on bureaucracy and to ensure that front-line patient services receive the savings from cutting red tape. As my hon. Friend will realise, the White Paper proposes that we shall save £1 billion as a result of moving away from the discredited and expensive internal market and reintroducing to the NHS a partnership approach. Secondly, we shall consider favourably any trust mergers that are proposed, provided that they are in the interests of patients and that they release at least £500,000 from bureaucracy to front-line patient care. That is what patients deserve and staff want.

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