HC Deb 09 January 2001 vol 360 cc858-9
1. Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

If he will make a statement on allocations under the modernisation fund. [142896]

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

In the last two years, £4 billion worth of extra investment for the national health service has been provided through the modernisation fund. It has been used to expand critical care, cancer and heart services. Among other purposes, it has been used to cut waiting times for treatment and to increase the number of nurses in training.

Mr. St. Aubyn

On how many occasions have the Secretary of State and his ministerial colleagues overridden the advice of civil servants on the allocation of money to bids for the fund?

Mr. Milburn

I think that the hon. Gentleman has confused the modernisation fund and the special assistance fund—perhaps he is starting the year as he means to go on. He appears to be alluding to the special assistance fund in calling for extra money for his health authority. It is true that we received advice suggesting that we put more money into West Surrey health authority than we initially put in under the special assistance fund, but we have agreed with official advice on how much money we should put into general allocations for that health authority. This year, £30 million extra will go to West Surrey as a consequence of the investment that we are making, and next year there will be extra investment of £31 million.

Dr. Jack Cunningham (Copeland)

I welcome my right hon. Friend's determination to modernise the national health service, especially in west Cumbria and my constituency. I also welcome the substantial increase in the budget of North Cumbria health authority. However, does he recognise that money is not the sole issue? Will he examine specifically and urgently the collapse of breast services at the West Cumberland hospital in Copeland? There is widespread concern, not because the resources to sustain the service are not available but because it is proving very difficult to recruit radiologists of sufficient standing to fill the posts. When he considers the problem, will he also ensure that the solution is designed for the convenience and better health care of the women who need such services, and not for the convenience of administrators and consultants?

Mr. Milburn

I shall gladly consider the concerns that my right hon. Friend has raised. He has already raised them informally with me and I shall be glad to examine the specific problem. It is true that we have a problem with the recruitment of radiologists and surgeons for oncology services. That is the position throughout the country and, in large part, it reflects the problems that the NHS faces today, which are no longer problems of cash, but problems of capacity. There is a shortage of trained and skilled nurses and doctors. Over time, we will put that right. As a result of the record levels of investment that we are making, over the next four or five years, the six major specialties that deal with cancer services will see a 25 per cent. increase in numbers.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge)

I am glad that the Secretary of State has come clean about his intervention to reduce the amount of money recommended by his officials for West Surrey health authority under transitional funding arrangements, but does he not understand that if he fails to answer the questions of my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) about how, when and why he departs from official recommendations when making allocations under the modernisation fund, he will not dispel the suspicion that it is being used as a multibillion-pound slush fund, dispensed at his whim in an attempt to buy friends and influence in the run-up to the general election?

Mr. Milburn

I honestly do not know to what the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) are alluding. Let me give them some examples of the use to which we have put the modernisation fund, then let the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) substantiate his allegation.

In 1999–2000, to get waiting times down, we put an extra £260 million into the local health service through the modernisation fund; we also put extra money into cancer and coronary heart disease services. I think that, in the last financial year and the current one, we have put an extra £150 million into critical care services. The hon. Gentleman always bleats about lack of investment in such services, but I should have thought that he would welcome the fact that critical care, heart disease and cancer services, and efforts to cut waiting and modernise accident and emergency services are precisely the priorities of the national health service and the modernisation fund.

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