HC Deb 16 September 2003 vol 410 cc706-7
5. Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

If he will make a statement on the development of ambulatory care units in the NHS. [129952]

The Secretary of State for Health (Dr. John Reid)

The prevention of preventable pain for patients will always be this Government's top priority. That is why the national health service is developing a large number of new treatment centres, which will enable more patients to receive more operations more quickly. Some will be run by NHS providers and others by independent sector providers under contract with the NHS, but all will contribute to the relief of preventable pain.

Kevin Brennan

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. In developing his plans for England, will he look at the example of the ambulatory care centre in the University hospital of Wales, in Cardiff, which is providing excellent, state-of-the-art treatment for patients very quickly? That is an example of the treatment that all of us would like to see from a world-class national health service. If the centres that he is developing in England are of the same standard as the one serving my Cardiff constituents, I am sure that hon. Members throughout the House will welcome this development.

Dr. Reid

I am grateful for those comments. What my hon. Friend says is true, and I have seen with my own eyes the results that treatment centres can produce. A centre in Bradford—it is part of the NHS; it is not in the independent sector—has reduced the waiting time for minor operations from about 12 months to six weeks. If we consider the vast reduction in the time that 22,000 patients in the Thames valley needing cataract operations will have to wait in pain, we can see the real benefits.

All these new systems are being introduced on top of the huge investment in resources that we are making in the NHS itself, which is already producing more doctors, more nurses and more staff. I am delighted to tell the House that, according to figures released this morning, in the past three months the number of GPs increased by another 293, and the number of consultants rose by 321. We still have a long way to go, but we are getting there.

Dr. Richard Taylor (Wyre Forest)

Will the Secretary of State explain the dual tariff, whereby the NHS pays more for operations and procedures in privately run treatment centres than in NHS treatment centres?

Dr. Reid

If such an unfair tariff existed, I would explain it; it does not, but I shall explain the mechanism, which has perhaps confused the hon. Gentleman. The tariff that will be paid to treatment centres, whether they are NHS treatment centres or centres in the independent sector, will be exactly the same as that paid by primary care trusts to normal, traditional hospitals inside the NHS. It is true that in the case of NHS establishments, we also pay other costs, including building costs; but we will pay the independent sector an additional premium from the centre, in order that it can set up quickly, acquire staff and maintain the buildings.

So the tariff is exactly the same, and the important point that I ask the hon. Gentleman to stress is this. In the past week, I have heard the views of consultants, some of whom appear not to want us to reduce waiting lists. I can understand why, because doing so reduces the demand for private care. I have heard some trade union leaders standing up against these changes and I have heard a range of producers and providers doing the same. For goodness sake, could we for once think of the people whom the health service exists to serve—the patients? About 250,000 of them will have extra operations from the new treatment centres, in addition to the 300,000 more operations that the NHS is already providing, so many people are suffering much less pain as a result of our changes.

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