HL Deb 21 October 2002 vol 639 cc1066-7

2.50 p.m.

Lord Clement-Jones asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether senior public health service managers are being pressed to claim falsely that they are meeting targets, in the light of the recent BBC survey of 400 members of the Institute of Healthcare Management alleging such pressure.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath)

My Lords, NHS managers are not being pressed falsely to claim that they are meeting targets. NHS managers must act with integrity and the new managerial code of conduct will hold them to account for their professional behaviour.

Lord Clement-Jones

My Lords, the survey shows clearly that NHS managers are—and certainly feel—under considerable pressure to fiddle performance figures. Does not the new code just divert the blame from where it should lie; namely, on ministerial micro-management and the failure to give real managerial freedom to NHS staff?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

No, my Lords. The survey was highly selective. Two-thirds of those asked to respond did not do so. As regards micro-management, if I had followed the advice offered by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, over the past four years, as expressed in his countless Questions, debates and amendments moved to Bills, the NHS would indeed have been submerged by hundreds of targets.

Baroness Noakes

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the amount of fiddling of target figures in the NHS that is found out is just the tip of the iceberg? Does he therefore agree that the Government's NHS Plan targets are now not worth the paper they are written on?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I do not agree with that at all. I have made clear that we expect NHS managers to operate with integrity. I believe that the great majority of NHS managers do so. As regards the NHS Plan, I believe that the Government have made a great deal of progress. I refer to success in reducing waiting lists, making progress with regard to targets to build 100 new hospitals, speeding up access to GP clinics, increasing the number of training places for doctors and nurses, and increasing retention and recruitment among nurses. There is abundant evidence of real progress with the NHS Plan.

Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve

My Lords, has the Minister considered in the light of each performance target whether they create perverse incentives? Is there any process for doing away with those targets which have that effect—a process which I understand is now increasingly widely adopted in the private sector?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I understand that the noble Baroness wishes to see a culture in which there is trust between the Government, the Department of Health and people working in the NHS. I very much echo that sentiment. Indeed, I believe that the new managerial code of conduct will help that process. However, it is absolutely right that tough targets are set for the NHS. We are in the middle of turning the service round and delivering a first-class service to the public. We have to set targets to ensure that the NHS uses its extra resources as wisely as possible.