HC Deb 24 October 2000 vol 355 cc112-3
4. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East)

What administrative impact the national changeover plan has had on NHS trusts. [131850]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Denham)

As set out in the second outline national changeover plan published in March, the NHS has carried out a measure of pre-planning for the possibility of UK entry into the single currency. This was carried out by existing staff from within current running cost budgets. Resources have not been diverted from patient care.

Dr. Lewis

Is not that an extraordinary answer, when it has been estimated that the cost to the NHS of the national changeover plan will total between £75 million and £95 million? That is four times the cost of the new community hospital that is being built to service New Forest. How does the Minister feel about sacrificing four community hospitals to the Government's obsession with the single European currency?

Mr. Denham

Those Opposition Members who are so fanatically opposed to anything European that they are even further to the right than those on the Opposition Front Bench are in the habit of quoting wild figures, exaggerations and unfounded claims about this matter, like many others.

I quote from the press statement put out by Buckinghamshire health authority on 9 October this year. It states: The amount of time and money taken up by this exercise so far is a few days in each trust and would equate to a cost of several hundred pounds, rather than the hundreds of thousands of pounds previously quoted in the press.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden)

I wish you all the best, Mr. Speaker, in your new role.

Despite efforts by the NHS executive to stifle our inquiry into the changeover costs by health authority, we have obtained figures. One of the examples is Buckinghamshire health authority—I am glad that that example has been cited. The changeover plan will cost Buckinghamshire health authority £500,000 and 13,000 staff-days. Does the Minister support that use of public money which could otherwise be used for patient care?

Mr. Denham

It is outrageous for the Opposition to suggest that such figures have been diverted from patient care, when, as I made clear by quoting from the statement issued by Buckinghamshire health authority, that is not the case. That health authority refers to costs of several hundreds of pounds, not the £433,000 previously quoted in the press. The Opposition should not peddle figures that are simply not true. I am one of those who, unlike the Opposition, believe that at the right time the British people should have the choice as to whether we join the euro, and it is obviously right that a modest amount of sensible planning to anticipate what a change would involve should be undertaken.