HC Deb 20 January 2004 vol 416 cc1209-10
11. Mrs. Marion Roe (Broxbourne)(Con)

How many information reports by NHS trusts were made to his Department in 2003. [148794]

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

In 2002—03 the NHS was asked to make 123 regular information reports to the Department of Health, typically on a quarterly or a monthly basis. This compares with 134 such reports in 1996–97.

Mrs. Roe

Is the Minister aware of the major concerns of the NHS Confederation outlined in its publication of December 2003, "Smarter Reporting", which states that the current system of reporting is time-consuming and poorly co-ordinated and is often viewed by those compiling the data as unnecessary? What action has the Minister taken to cut out all unnecessary requests and to carry out an audit of what Information is needed and why?

Mr. Hutton

The hon. Lady is right to raise that issue. She is probably aware of the NHS Confederation's view recently expressed that the NHS is making progress in reducing the weight of unnecessary bureaucracy and administration. As my answer made clear, we have reduced the number of regular information reports that we expect the NHS to deliver to the Department and we will continue to bear down on that, but we need to strike a balance, as I am sure the hon. Lady would accept, and make sure that we have the right information which allows patients and the public to know what is going on in the NHS, allows the NHS to do a better job in improving services and, fundamentally, allows hon. Members to hold Ministers properly to account. We need to strike the right balance, and we are determined to continue to make further progress. I finish with this: in the last year of the previous Administration, 228 circulars were issued by the Department to the NHS, one famously dealing with how we should cook turkeys in NHS kitchens. Last year there were 12 such circulars, none of them dealing with how we cook turkeys.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury)(Con)

The Minister's reply severely underestimates the number of ad hoc reports that trusts are required to furnish on an almost daily basis, as I found out when I visited my local acute hospital on Friday. The right hon. Gentleman will be familiar with the phrase that he gives hon. Members all the time in response to parliamentary questions—that the information requested is not available centrally and could only be provided at disproportionate cost. That is fair enough, but does he agree that a similar system should apply in respect of his Department? The NHS Confederation's excellent report "Smarter Reporting" proposed the idea of a yellow card. The Minister should consider that carefully, so that unnecessary data are not constantly requested from NHS trusts by the centre.

Mr. Hutton

We look seriously at everything the NHS Confederation does, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman and the Conservative Front-Bench team will do so as well. Perhaps he would like to be reminded of what Gill Morgan, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said in response to the attack on the NHS by the Leader of the Opposition last week, when he misquoted the NHS Confederation's view. On the subject of targets, interference and bureaucracy, Gill Morgan said last week: We believe the tide has turned. The last two years have seen significant improvements, including a genuine reduction in the number of targets and a cull of the guidance and central directives sent from the Department to the service. That strikes the right note.

Mr. Archie Norman (Tunbridge Wells)(Con)

May I remind the Minister that we are not opposed to clarity of reporting? What people in the health service find demoralising are the continuous changes in reporting requirements and targets. For instance, of the 148 performance indicators last year, 51 were the same, 54 were changed and 43 were altogether new. When does the right hon. Gentleman think there will be stability in the reporting requirements for the health service?

Mr. Hutton

I believe we are making progress in the right direction. I know that, to be fair to him, the hon. Gentleman is an expert on all these issues, but I am surprised that he does not have the good grace to acknowledge that. The policies and priorities framework that we issued last year for a three-year period sets out clearly the direction of travel for the NHS. The more stability we can create in the system, the better. That is what we are doing, and it has never been done before.