HC Deb 06 July 2004 vol 423 cc685-6
14. Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD)

What assessment he has made of the potential for patient choice in remote rural areas.[182195]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Dr. Stephen Ladyman)

Increasing patient choice offers all patients, including those in rural areas, the opportunity to have more control over their health care. Choice should also lead to better quality services as health care providers respond to the choices that patients make.

Andrew George

I am grateful for that reply, but does the Minister accept that the reality in rural areas is a choice between whether people have a hospital or not, and a consideration of whether there are enough acute and primary care beds and front-line staff, and sufficient diagnostic capacity in the NHS in such areas, rather than a synthetic argument about the choice to join some elective queue or other somewhere else?

Dr. Ladyman

So in the hon. Gentleman's opinion, Cornish mothers do not want to choose between midwife-led units and obstetrician-led units for their births, and the 3,000 people from the health economy in his area who have already chosen under existing plans to travel to shorten their waiting time for coronary heart disease operations do not want that choice. It is absolutely true that part of what we must do is to drive up capacity and ensure that that is available everywhere. However, one of the great drivers for that—it is also a driver for increasing quality—is giving people choice, and that is just as relevant, and perhaps even more relevant, in rural areas as it is anywhere else.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con)

May I join a modest celebration and congratulate Ministers on the way in which they have expanded the choice available to my rural constituents by making use of the availability and capacity of the private sector? Does the Minister, in accepting the success of that scheme, believe that it is time to expand it further to alleviate the suffering of people who have had to dip into their savings to afford life-changing, or life-saving, treatments?

Dr. Ladyman

The hon. Gentleman's party's policy is to force people to pay from their own pockets if they want choice, while our policy is to give people choice without their having to spend extra money. He would unleash inefficiency on the health service by allowing people to buy from the private sector one at a time. When we choose to use the private sector, we negotiate and buy in bulk, and get cost effectiveness as a result.