HC Deb 10 November 1998 vol 319 cc135-7
7. Mr. Nigel Beard (Bexleyheath and Crayford)

If he will make a statement on progress in establishing a system of medically auditing the effectiveness of various therapies employed in the NHS. [57355]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. Alan Milburn)

In July we published "A First Class Service" which set our plans to establish the new national institute for clinical excellence early next year.

For the first time, NHS professional staff and their patients will be able to look to a single authoritative source for clear guidance about the effectiveness of therapies.

Mr. Beard

I welcome my right hon. Friend's answer and the long overdue steps that are now being taken to disseminate best practice throughout the national health service with the national institute for clinical excellence and the Commission for Health Improvement. Does my hon. Friend agree that the rapid development of medically relevant biotechnology is now likely to provide new therapies that mimic the body's own biochemical processes, allowing the early diagnosis of disease and providing indications of predisposition to disease in certain circumstances, all of which are likely to revolutionise medical practice? Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that new arrangements for medical audit will promote the early introduction of those innovations into the NHS and that there will be the fullest collaboration between the NHS and British companies and research organisations to progress those new developments towards medical use?

Mr. Milburn

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. As he rightly said, we could be on the verge of some extremely exciting medical breakthroughs that will revolutionise patient care and the life chances of thousands, if not millions, of patients. It is important, therefore, that we achieve our aim, which is to ensure the introduction of more effective treatments into the national health service more quickly than has been possible before. We will do that through the national institute for clinical excellence and our new national service frameworks. We will also do it by abolishing the old internal market which inhibited collaboration and so fragmented decision making that we ended up with thousands of competing health units instead of a single national health service. We want to see a single national health service, providing care according to clinical need rather than depending on where a patient lives or who happens to be their GP.

Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham)

Is the Minister aware that one direct casualty of the abolition of GP fundholding and a move to commissioning groups has been the provision of physiotherapy services? In West Sussex, many of my constituents who need physiotherapy because they are elderly or have suffered severe accidents are now faced with either not having those essential services or having to pay for them privately, which many of them cannot afford to do.

Mr. Milburn

The hon. Gentleman is wrong about that. Before too long—hopefully within the next three weeks— we will be issuing new guidance to health authorities and to primary care groups in their shadow form, urging them to ensure the retention of proven and effective services provided by GP fundholding, and that their benefits are spread to all patients. We want to see a levelling up, not a levelling down. In particular, we want to see the end of the two-tier system that GP fundholding introduced into the NHS.