HC Deb 26 June 2001 vol 370 cc503-4
7. Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

What new resources he will make available for areas of continuing population growth. [487]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Jacqui Smith)

My hon. Friend's constituency will benefit from the increased investment that the Government are making in the national health service. In distributing the increased investment, we allocate funding to health authorities on the basis of the relative needs of their population. The most important determinant of need for health services is the size of the population, and each year we update the formula that we use to take account of the latest available population projections from the Office for National Statistics.

Dr. Starkey

May I remind the Minister that Milton Keynes is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country and has had an increase in population year on year of 2 per cent. for more than a decade? although some extra beds have been provided in our hospital and we are to have a new diagnostic and treatment centre, the occupancy rate for adult acute beds averages 93 per cent. My hon. Friend's fellow Minister of State, my hon Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), who visited the hospital before the election campaign, understood the stress that the hospital was under, and he has also received a letter from consultants at the hospital stressing their problems. Will she urgently consider providing both capital and revenue inputs now to bridge the gap until the new diagnostic and treatment unit comes on stream?

Jacqui Smith

I recognise the pressure that staff at Milton Keynes general hospital are working under. I have seen the letter that my hon. Friend sent to my hon. Friend the Minister. I thank her, as an advocate for her constituency, and the staff of the hospital for the good work that they are doing under difficult circumstances. I agree that it is important that the plans for the new diagnostic and treatment centre are taken forward as quickly as possible. I understand that the project board has been set up.

I understand my hon. Friend's concern about extra funding to deal with some of the problems. We are actively considering a recent bid from the health authority for £1 million of additional resources for Milton Keynes general hospital. That bid is receiving extremely active consideration from my hon. Friend the Minister. That money would be on top of the extra resources that the authority has already received.

It is important that, in undertaking its modernisation review, the health authority looks at the particular needs of the Milton Keynes area and how they can be addressed. I hear what my hon. Friend eloquently says on behalf of her constituents, and I know that my hon. Friend the Minister, who is considering that bid, has also heard it.

Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire)

Is the Minister aware that, despite the projections, my constituents in North-East Bedfordshire still find themselves with a health authority that is some £17 million underfunded, even though it is an area of substantial population growth? When can she reassure my constituents that adequate resources will be made available by her Government before that population growth comes on stream so that we do not have continually to play the inadequate game of catch-up?

Jacqui Smith

As I have already outlined, the key issue for the hon. Gentleman's constituents is how the formula allocates the resources. We have already made it clear in the NHS plan that we are anxious to reduce inequalities, that that would be a key criterion for allocating NHS resources and that we shall be considering how to level up the resources of less well funded health authorities. The hon. Gentleman, who has experience of election campaigns, both successful and unsuccessful, has a bit of a cheek to return to the House pressing for extra funding after campaigning during the election on a promise of between £16 billion and £20 billion of cuts. One cannot say one thing to the country and another to the House.

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