HC Deb 04 November 2003 vol 412 cc659-60
7. Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

What additional funding his Department is making available for the improvement in the (a) premises and (b) facilities available at general practitioners' surgeries in England. [135975]

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

The Government are committed to investment of £1 billion by 2004 in improving primary care premises and facilities through NHS LIFT—local improvement finance trust—and other investment routes. The NHS LIFT scheme in east Lancashire, which I was able to visit last Friday, has reached financial close and work has now started on the first of several new developments, which will include my hon. Friend's constituency.

Mr. Pike

As my hon. Friend mentioned, he was in Bacup last week and he will know that many surgeries in my constituency do not meet the standards for primary care in GPs' surgeries that the Government want to deliver in 2003. Does he believe that the LIFT programme and what Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale primary care trust is doing will ensure that we have such facilities, and will they be value for money?

Mr. Hutton

I do believe that. As my hon. Friend knows, the primary care trust has started with three developments initially, in Bacup, Nelson and Darwen. I understand that GPs in his constituency will be in the second tranche of development and I hope that that will proceed as soon as possible. I agree with him that it is desperately important that we improve the primary care estate in the NHS. It is where 90 per cent. of all patient journeys begin and end and, as GPs would themselves acknowledge, it is true that many surgeries are not up to scratch. They are not capable of delivering modern, 21st-century health care. That is why we are making a record investment in primary care, and there is no more pressing case than my hon. Friend's constituency.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

Will the Minister direct some of the additional funding for primary care to areas where GP lists are well above the national average, such as in my constituency, or will he continue to be a party to the fiddling of formulae that will continue the crisis in public service provision in the south-east of England?

Mr. Hutton

No, we do not fiddle any formulae. Health spending is directed to the areas of greatest need. That is precisely the methodology we use to distribute money across the national health service. The hon. Gentleman has recently had something of a reputation for espousing the causes of the vulnerable. I imagine that that is why he is especially pleased to see what has happened to the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), who must surely now be included on a list of the vulnerable. There are 42 LIFT schemes across the country and I am more than happy to send the hon. Gentleman details of them so that he can judge for himself whether the figures have been fiddled, as he alleges.

Alan Simpson (Nottingham, South)

There is overwhelming public support for the Government investment programme in the renewal of GP facilities, but will the Minister look carefully at the value-for-money aspect? The first of the LIFT proposals in my constituency includes plans for a £5 million health centre that will be rented back to the NHS at a cost of £25 million, an effective interest rate of more than 20 per cent. I asked some of the high street building societies what they would charge me for a mortgage to build it myself and discovered that it would cost £8 million. Can the Minister look carefully at the long-term costs and constraints imposed on LIFT companies to ensure that we get the modern facilities that we need but not at the Barclaycard interest rates that we do not?

Mr. Hutton

NHS LIFT schemes do represent value for money. I understand that my hon. Friend has an ideological opposition to involving the private sector in the construction of NHS facilities. I respect that, but I profoundly disagree with him about the implications for NHS LIFT. All NHS LIFT schemes must pass a value-for-money test, and they do so. However, I can tell my hon. Friend and anyone else who is worried about the matter that the priority is to get the investment in place so that primary care facilities for NHS patients can be renewed. NHS LIFT represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make a significant and real difference to the improvement of primary care facilities in my hon. Friend's constituency, and in the constituencies of hon. Members of all parties. That should be our priority.