HC Deb 18 July 2002 vol 389 cc409-11
5. Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury)

If he will make a statement on the progress of public service agreement targets for the Department of Health. [68401]

The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown)

A progress report is included in the 2002 Department of Health departmental report, which is published today. Since 1997, more than 100,000 fewer people are on the waiting lists; there are 39,000 more nurses, more than 10,000 more doctors and 37 per cent. more heart operations; more than 90 per cent. of people urgently referred by their GP with suspected cancer now see a specialist within two weeks; and there are 50 per cent. more CT scanners and 80 per cent. more MRI scanners; and last year, for the first time in 30 years, there was an increase in the number of NHS beds.

Mr. O'Brien

We all know that the Government favour target setting over reform, and, as the Chancellor said earlier in his answer to the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall), the choice of public service agreement objectives reflects the Government's priorities. In that case, is the absence of a target for the number of care home beds a fair and true reflection of the Government's refusal to acknowledge that there is a real crisis in our care homes today?

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman should wait for the statement by the Secretary of State for Health about the 6 per cent. real-terms increase in social services expenditure that I announced last Monday, and for the announcements in that statement about new measures that will be introduced. The fact is that, if we want to increase the number of care home beds and to improve social services for the elderly, we are faced with a choice: do we spend more money or less? We will spend the money; the Conservatives would make more charges.

Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington)

Under the public service agreement, some specific targets have been set for this year. One is that in-patients should not have to wait more than 12 weeks; another is that out-patients should not have to wait more than 26 weeks. May I tell my right hon. Friend that both those targets have been met in full at Warwick hospital in my constituency? Is not this a case of service agreements providing precise targets that are being delivered thanks to the increased investment that the Government are putting in?

Mr. Brown

There are 300,000 more operations taking place in the national health service, and 100,000 fewer people on the waiting list. The maximum waiting time—which was more than 18 months when we came to power—is gradually being reduced to 15, then 12, nine and six months. Those are the aims that are being pursued in the targets that we have set the national health service. The question is, however, when making the reforms and setting the objectives—including giving more power to the primary care trusts—are we prepared to put the necessary money in to finance the expansion of health care? Everybody agrees—in any report that is produced—that the health service needs more money, except one group of people: the Conservatives, who want charges and cuts instead of spending.

Matthew Taylor (Truro and St. Austell)

Since about half of all the Government's 1998 and 2000 departmental targets appear to have been unmet, changed, failed or dropped. will the Chancellor oblige us by giving a single example of a Department that has been penalised, and telling us what penalty followed?

Mr. Brown

The issue about targets is that, when they are not met—

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk)


Mr. Brown

The Agriculture Department has been completely reorganised

Mr. Bacon

Fat lot of good it has done. It has got worse, much worse.

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman now says that he opposes what we are doing to give more money to sustainable farming, and the public expenditure announcement that we will give more money to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The important thing is that, when a Department goes wrong, action is taken. Why did the hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Matthew Taylor)—who now calls himself the shadow Chancellor; he is the shadow Chancellor who resides in Truro, as opposed to the one who resides in Folkestone—not welcome the action that we proposed on Monday to tackle failing institutions, including hospitals, schools, colleges, prisons and the probation service? In all those areas, we take action if there are failing institutions, and we also take action if permanent secretaries or Departments fail.

James Purnell (Stalybridge and Hyde)

Does my right hon. Friend think that new charges for GP visits should be introduced to finance the NHS, or indeed that it is a Stalinist creation?

Mr. Brown

At the last general election, the Conservative party stood on a policy that the national health service would be free at the point of need. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] Since then, a policy of charging, which the Conservatives are now proposing, has been put forward by the shadow Chancellor. The policy of charging is wrong. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Sometimes I cannot hear what is being said because so many people are shouting. I call the shadow Chancellor.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

May I say how greatly I am looking forward to debating the Chancellor's spending plans with him next Tuesday? Meanwhile, will he explain why, in his panoply of new targets set on Monday, that that for NHS efficiency savings has been reduced from 3 to 2 per cent. and that for ensuring that everyone should be expected to achieve the level of the best over five years has been dropped completely?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Before the Chancellor answers, I ask him not to talk about Conservative party policy.

Mr. Brown

It does not bear talking about.

We set targets in 1998, which have generally been met. We set targets in 2000, which run through to 2004. On the basis of the assessment that we made, we are setting new targets to 2006. The NHS is becoming more efficient. That is why the efficiency target is as it is for the next round. Equally so, we have set new targets, both for waiting times and waiting lists, and, of course, for the efficiency of hospitals.

Mr. Howard

It is a great pity that the Chancellor could not give a direct answer to that direct question. It is an even greater pity that he introduced yet more fiction to his answer. The Government said in their progress report on the efficiency target that they set four years ago, "There has been slippage." Perhaps it would have been better if the Chancellor had stuck with his adviser's phrase of "increased room for catch-up". What happens when there is increased room for catch-up? Instead of trying harder to catch up, the Government drop the target. Does not that expose as a complete sham all the Chancellor's fine words on Monday about matching resources with reforms and results for patients?

Mr. Brown

Absolutely not, because we have reduced waiting times and waiting lists. We have also secured a massive devolution of funding to local health authorities, all of which the Conservatives should have done but never did.

The number of operations carried out in hospitals has risen by several hundred thousand and we have provided repair and renovation for 96 per cent. of accident and emergency units. On training in medical schools, the numbers will go up from 3,700 entering every year to 5,900. On new equipment in the health service, the number of CT scanners is up 50 per cent. and that of MRI scanners is up 60 per cent. The number of people getting cancer operations and help from heart specialists has gone up as well. In those areas, we have been meeting the demands, but the question is, "Are you prepared to spend the money on the health service?" We are.