HC Deb 08 June 1999 vol 332 cc456-7
12. Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey)

How many private finance initiative community hospital schemes are awaiting decision by his Department. [85009]

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Frank Dobson)

The private finance initiative scheme for a new community hospital in Sheppey, being taken forward by the Thameslink Gateway NHS trust, is one of a package of PFI schemes being negotiated with one consortium. Difficulties in resolving some of the outstanding issues on the most advanced of those schemes—that for Chichester—has held up progress on all the schemes. I expect the Chichester scheme to reach financial close shortly. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be pleased with that, because it should mean that, within the next two months, the trust in his area will know whether it has a viable scheme to build the much-needed community hospital in Sheppey.

Mr. Wyatt

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply—although he has stolen some of my thunder. That particular PH scheme on the Isle of Sheppey has been going for three and a half years and £1 million has been spent so far on legal fees for a scheme costing only —10 million. What my constituents are most concerned about is that, if the scheme does not go ahead, we will not have a hospital. Will my right hon. Friend comment on that matter?

Mr. Dobson

That was one of the innumerable shambles that we inherited from the Conservatives. [HON. MEMBERS: "Come on."] It is no good moaning£it was. It is as simple as that. We have gone a long way towards sorting things out; that is why 12 major PF1 hospitals are being built already and there are dozens of smaller schemes. Provided that the Chichester scheme is okay, I expect the Sheppey scheme to go ahead. What is crucial is that, if the scheme cannot be undertaken through the PFI, we shall have to use other methods. The people of Sheppey are entitled to a decent community hospital, and that is what we are determined to provide—one way or another.

Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood)

I am pleased to welcome the fact that the Government are continuing to develop the private finance initiative for hospital building. May we be precisely clear about the Government's position? Would it be accurate to say that, in relation to the ancillary services of the national health service, the present Government are more effective privatisers of those services than their predecessors? Is that the Secretary of State's position?

Mr. Dobson

No, it is not. Given that, for countless decades, the average cost overrun for major hospital developments was 20 per cent.—so that the NHS got five hospitals for the price of six—the main thing that we are privatising is the cost overruns. Under the PH, if there are any cost overruns, the private sector will have to meet them-not the taxpayer.

Mrs. Eileen Gordon (Romford)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the delay in the PFI decision on Oldchurch hospital in Romford is causing great anxiety within the community and having an impact on the modernisation of other health service facilities—for example, the overdue reprovision of Warley hospital, which should have been closed years ago? The delay is even having an impact on the local authority's review of leisure facilities in Havering. Are we likely to have a decision soon?

Mr. Dobson

I certainly hope that we shall have a decision soon. However, it has to be said that, until the Labour Government entered office, no decision was taken, even in principle, to go ahead with the new hospital at Oldchurch, so it is no good any of the local Tories moaning—their Government did nothing about the matter for 18 years.