HL Deb 02 February 2005 vol 669 cc223-5

Lord Harris of Haringey asked Her Majesty's Government:

How much money has been spent on new and refurbished hospitals in the past eight years compared with the previous eight years.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner)

My Lords, the total capital investment in new hospital building schemes and the refurbishment and re-equipping of existing hospitals over the past eight years is almost £18 billion. That compares with £12.5 billion in the previous eight years. Further increases are planned, with annual capital investment in the NHS expected to reach £8 billion in 2007–08. That will be almost six times the annual capital spend on the NHS in 1996–97.

Lord Harris of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that response. I hesitate to enter a partisan note into the deliberations of your Lordships' House—

Noble Lords


Lord Harris of Haringey

My Lords, I would be grateful, however, if my noble friend would speculate on the implications of the Conservative Party's plans for future public expenditure, and in particular on the bizarre suggestion from the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer that certain taxes should he made voluntary if people do not like the issue on which the money might be spent or simply feel that they do not use the service concerned.

Lord Warner

My Lords, like many Members on this side of the House, I shudder at the prospect of what might happen. It is worth bearing in mind that the money that I mentioned has helped us to complete 49 hospital schemes since 1997, with another 33 under construction. I find it difficult to believe that, under the measures mentioned by my noble friend, we could have that kind of record if the Conservatives were in government. They seem terribly interested in redistributing money from the NHS and putting those resources into the pockets of people who want to pay for private healthcare.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, I should declare an interest as someone who received a knighthood for spending public money in British Rail. Does the Minister accept that there is nothing terribly difficult about spending public money? He is too modest. All those who remember the likes of the Dome realise that the Government are good at it. The key thing is whether you get satisfied customers. Will he give us an example of how many people are spending their life savings to leave the country for India or somewhere because they are not madly keen on the product?

Lord Warner

My Lords, I do not have the noble Lord's experience in the transport industry, but I can reassure him that we have also spent money on producing 77,000 more nurses and 19,000 more doctors. Early mortality from cancer has dropped dramatically in this country—the fastest drop in Europe. Those people who are still alive as the result of the services put in place are pretty satisfied customers. I hope that a major drop in coronary heart disease deaths will mean another fairly satisfied group of customers. There are reduced waiting times for in-patient treatment; I could go on.

Earl Howe

My Lords, the new money that has gone into the NHS is good news all round and everyone welcomes it. However, why is the NHS budget now £0.5 billion in the red? Announcements from six NHS trusts recently showed that, from those trusts alone, almost 500 beds, an orthopaedic unit and a pathology lab were set to be closed, and that 470 front-line staff had either been or were about to be laid off. Will the Minister assure us that the new and refurbished hospitals will have the money to stay open?

Lord Warner

My Lords, what I can say is that the revenue budgets for the NHS will reach about £92 billion in 2007–08, compared with £69 billion. That will be a much better position in which to cope with a little modest underspending of the kind that the noble Earl mentioned than would be the case if his party were in power, with its NHS policies.

Lord Turnberg

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the charitable sector makes an important contribution to the capital programmes of the NHS? Would it be possible for the Department of Health to encourage greater partnerships between the charitable sector—the research charities and others—and the NHS?

Lord Warner

My Lords, the Department of Health warmly supports more partnerships with the voluntary sector. This morning, I visited a hospice run by the voluntary sector in St Albans. It was this Government who put in place a compact between the Department of Health and the voluntary sector for work in the NHS sector; it was this Government who have produced a Bill on charity reform.

Earl Ferrers

My Lords, the Minister gave some impressive statistics, but is it not a fact that more people have died in hospital as a result of dirty wards than have died as a result of accidents on the roads? What will the Government do about that?

Lord Warner

My Lords, the growth of MRSA was most acute between 1993 and 1997.

Lord Walton of Detchant

My Lords, the development of these many excellent new hospitals and the refurbishment of the old has been most welcome in the NHS, but why do many of the new hospitals built under the private finance initiative have fewer beds than those that they replaced?

Lord Warner

My Lords, since the 1980s—noble Lords will notice that I mention the 1980s—there has been a reduction of about 20 per cent in the number of beds in the NHS. We leave the planning of hospitals in particular localities under the PFI scheme to be worked through by the local health economies to meet their needs. I have no reason to think that that has not been the case. The National Audit Office certainly paid tribute to the highly effective PFI schemes that have been put in place.

Baroness Neuberger

My Lords, given that the noble Lord, Lord Walton, raised the issue of PFI, can the Minister say whether there are adequate break clauses in the PFI contracts for much of this very welcome new hospital building? Can we be certain that those hospitals will not be 30 years out of date, because they are designed for now and five years ago, not for 30 years hence?

Lord Warner

My Lords, the department has put much emphasis on trying to build flexibility into hospital designs. Examples drawn to our attention by the National Audit Office include PFI hospitals that are being delivered on or ahead of time, which contrasts starkly with what happened before. So NHS patients get their new hospitals faster and get the services from them faster.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords—

Lord St John of Fawsley

My Lords, does the Minister agree that if—

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, people always demand more public spending on hospitals and so on, but when the Government do that, not because of pressure, but because of their own conviction, people then change their tack and condemn the way in which the money is spent. When that matter is answered satisfactorily, they then jump from one to the other. Does the Minister agree that, regardless of how the Government are doing, the critics will continue to criticise in a manner that is in no way constructive? That is the problem with people in this House.

Lord Warner

My Lords, there was much truth in my noble friend's comments. He should take some comfort from the fact that my evidence shows that many local people who have seen the results of the investment and the provision of better health services fully support what the Government are doing. We shall see what happens after the forthcoming election is announced.

Back to
Forward to