HC Deb 02 March 1999 vol 326 cc864-5
4. Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds)

What representations he has received regarding levels of funding for NHS hospital trusts. [72378]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. John Hutton)

The Department, through the NHS Executive and its regional offices, is in day-to-day contact with NHS trusts and health authorities in their role of managing the national health service. Representations are made during those contacts, including by Members of Parliament, through formal channels such as parliamentary questions.

Mr. Ruffley

Is the Minister aware that many of my constituents who use the West Suffolk Hospitals NHS trust believe that the Government's funding policy discriminates against trusts in rural areas, such as their's, compared with urban areas? In that respect, may I draw the Minister's attention to today's report of an inquiry into the East Anglian Ambulance NHS trust, the performance of which is giving rise to great concern among many people in Suffolk? I am aware that the Secretary of State has taken a personal interest in the report. Given that meeting the goals in that document relies on increased funding, will the Minister give an undertaking to welcome a delegation of Suffolk Members of Parliament so that they may lobby for fairer health funding for Suffolk?

Mr. Hutton

I shall say two things to the hon. Gentleman. First, we will not accept any lectures from him and his hon. Friends about national health service funding. His tirade completely omitted any reference either to the 5.5 per cent. cash increase in Suffolk health authority's funding, or to next year's real-terms increase of more than £11 million for Suffolk health authority. I am rather surprised that he managed to let those figures slip through his fingers.

Secondly, the hon. Gentleman may not be aware of it, but we have already made an adjustment to the funding formula to allow additional resources to be made available to rural ambulance services.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

Will my hon. Friend ensure that the very generous funding allocated to the NHS by this Government is spent wisely? Will he look at the report into the East Anglian Ambulance NHS trust, which points to deep-seated management problems, many of which I have been drawing attention to for many years? I hope that he agrees that we should concentrate on the way in which such resources are spent.

Mr. Hutton

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I very strongly agree with what she says. It might help the debate and the clarity of the issues if Conservative Members were prepared to address the reality rather than criticise the Government's record on funding. In 1996–97, the total of NHS trust and health authority deficits was nearly £460 million. By the last quarter of 1998–99, we had managed to reduce that to £80 million. That is the bottom line.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge)

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that most NHS acute trusts will this year receive part of their funding in the form of a performance bonus, if they meet the Secretary of State's headline waiting list targets by 31 March? Will the Minister acknowledge that few, if any, hospital trusts can afford to lose that bonus? Does not that amount to a clear invitation to NHS trusts to do the Secretary of State's dirty work for him, letting out-patient waiting lists double in order to deliver on his political target for headline waiting lists?

Mr. Hutton

No, I do not accept that criticism—any part of it, or any word of it. If the hon. Gentleman were able to look at the performance of the NHS over the past few months, especially over the difficult winter period, I am sure that he would join me in congratulating the staff on their excellent work. He may well want to consider the very interesting figures on the reduction in waiting lists.