HC Deb 23 November 1999 vol 339 cc453-5
1. Mr. Michael J. Foster (Worcester)

If he will make a statement on the progress made building new hospitals using the private finance initiative. [98926]

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Alan Milburn)

Since 1 May 1997, 31 major hospital developments worth more than £2.9 billion have been given approval to proceed under the private finance initiative. Fifteen of those developments, worth more than £1.2 billion, have already signed final contracts and begun building.

Mr. Foster

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. As he is aware, after 40 years a new district general hospital is being built in Worcester using the PFI. Does he agree that that is concrete evidence of Labour delivering on pre-election pledges? Furthermore, does he agree that three distinct views on this issue are held in this House? The Conservative party failed to deliver a new hospital under the PFI and has now settled for the privatising initiative. The Liberal Democrats, the smaller Opposition party, oppose PFI except when it benefits their constituents and the Labour party is all for modernising the health service and making it fit for the 21st century.

Mr. Milburn

My hon. Friend is right. A huge hospital building programme is under way—the biggest programme that the national health service has ever seen—funded partially through the PFI and partially through the traditional Exchequer route. As my hon. Friend also rightly says, when we came to office although the Conservative party when in government had managed to spend £30 million on the fees of lawyers and management consultants, it had not got a single hospital built—not a bulldozer rolling or a brick laid. This Government are making the PFI work, delivering improved, modernised care for patients not merely in Worcester but in communities throughout the country.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South-West Surrey)

Peter Stock was a member of the Department of Health users and carers committee. He died a fortnight ago after spending 17 hours on a trolley—along with 18 other people in a local accident and emergency department. His widow has spoken movingly in the local paper about his work for the community. She has said that the only step that she can take is to seek improvements for others.

The right hon. Gentleman cannot solve all the problems of the health service, but is he aware of the despair in West Surrey health authority? The light on the horizon would be Farnham community hospital for the 21st century. If he can help it through the private finance initiative, he can have all the credit and all the spin that he wishes.

Mr. Milburn

That is a very handsome offer indeed and it is one that I will examine extremely carefully. The right hon. Lady has concerns about the issue and I have already invited her to speak to me about it. When we came to office far too many hospital projects were in the pipeline. The proposals were not moving through and we had to take some difficult decisions to prioritise those acute hospitals that were going to get the go-ahead. Thankfully, that action has got the PFI programme moving. Now, we want to study those proposals that are below the level of the huge acute hospital, which includes many community developments and some in primary care and mental health. We need to streamline that process, as we streamlined the process to get the acute hospital building programme moving. I will be happy to speak to the right hon. Lady directly about her concerns.

Mr. Andrew Reed (Loughborough)

Is the Minister aware that Loughborough's PFI bid for the replacement of Loughborough general hospital was recently rejected? However, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on replacing that hospital using Exchequer money—the £9.5 million that was announced last Thursday is very welcome. Will he ensure that future projects do not always rely on PFI and that Exchequer money plays a real part in restoring and rebuilding the national health service for the 21st century?

Mr. Milburn

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. When we decide that we are going to build a new hospital obviously we test for the most appropriate financial route. If the PFI turns out to be the best route and offers the best value for money and is affordable, we go down that route. That is not always possible. Loughborough hospital is one of a number of hospitals—others are in Hull and elsewhere—that we have decided to build through Exchequer capital. The point is that we test to find out what will work. That has to be the right approach. It means that, step by step, we are managing to modernise the national health service to give communities throughout the land precisely the sort of modern hospitals for which they have long been arguing.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge)

On 18 November, 1998, the Secretary of State said: we will not allow any clinical services to be included in a PH deal."—[Official Report, 18 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 918.] How does that square with what the right hon. Gentleman has just said—that he will test to find out what works? Can he tell the House if that is still the Government's policy and, if so, will he define what count as clinical services for the purposes of that pledge?

Mr. Milburn

The hon. Gentleman should know that we have already done that—we did it during the passage of the first Bill that the Government put through the House in this Parliament after we came to office—the National Health Service (Private Finance) Bill. We defined exactly which services were clinical. The key difference between the Labour and Conservative parties on the issue is that while the Conservatives support the privatisation of clinical services, we do not. There is a whole world of difference between the private sector building buildings, which is what it has always done, and its charging NHS patients for treatment, which is precisely what the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends want, not merely in PFI hospitals but in hospitals throughout the land.

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