HL Deb 04 July 2000 vol 614 cc1386-8

2.59 p.m.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree asked Her Majesty's Government:

What instructions they have given to National Health Service hospitals to make funds available for preparations for Britain to join the euro.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, as set out in the Government's second outline national changeover plan, the NHS is carrying out a measure of preplanning for the possibility of UK entry into the single currency. All parts of the public sector, including the NHS, need to plan for the possibility of UK entry to ensure that any changeover, if it takes place, takes place in a smooth and cost-effective way.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the extreme concern being expressed by the trusts on this matter? Can he tell the House exactly how much money hospitals will have to contribute for this purpose? What proportion of that money are the Government providing? Does he not agree that a diminution of funds must inevitably mean a lessening of patient care? How on earth, anyway, will patients benefit from our joining the euro? Is not the NHS in enough trouble without adding this burden on top?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, the NHS is not in trouble. It has just had an injection of a record amount of resources which will enable it to grow by one-third over four years. The noble Baroness referred to the concern expressed by trusts. It is difficult to find any issue in the NHS about which one individual trust is not deeply concerned. All that has happened is that each NHS organisation has been asked to consider and prepare plans in order for it to evaluate what it would take to embrace the changeover if that were to happen. With regard to expenditure, we would expect that task, which has to be completed by every organisation by the end of September, to be carried out by staff already working in the organisation.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that many people will be slightly puzzled by what is going on? What conceivable implication can membership of the euro have for good or ill for the National Health Service? It is simply another currency that might be carried by patients coming from France, Germany, China or anywhere else. I ask my question purely out of interest.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, if at any stage it was decided that this country should enter the euro, that would have an impact on the National Health Service, particularly during a transitional period.

Noble Lords


Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

In a number of ways, my Lords. For instance, on day one of entry into the EMU, if that were to happen, the NHS could expect to receive euro invoices. That might have to be covered by multi-currency financial systems. That would then require training for NHS finance staff. It might involve the organisation in dual pricing during the transitional period. That would have an impact on similar organisations. It is sensible that the NHS should be reflecting at the moment on what it would have to do if changeover occurred.

Lord Tomlinson

My Lords, is this not—

Lord Shore of Stepney

My Lords, perhaps I may—

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington)

My Lords, there seems to be some competitive calling for both my noble friend Lord Tomlinson and my noble friend Lord Shore. Perhaps we may hear them both if they ask brief questions.

Lord Tomlinson

My Lords, is this not a simple question of sensible forward planning by a sensible public service? Do not the suppliers of the National Health Service already submit some of their invoices in euros? Are there not some circumstances in which we require to be paid in euros? Is not such a preparation a necessary basis on which people can carry out sensible planning and have a sensible choice in a referendum when it comes?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, that is certainly a helpful intervention. We want a National Health Service that plans for the future. If this country decides to join a single currency it is important that the NHS is well prepared for it. The exercise that is taking place at the moment is to ensure that the NHS fully understands the implications so that if and when entry into the euro occurs it is able to do so.

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