§ Mr. Galley
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will announce his decisions following consultation on the National Health Service scrutiny report on residential accommodation.
§ Mr. Fowler
The Health Service is one of the biggest landlords in this country. Altogether health authorities own over 100,000 flats bedsitters and houses. But, unlike other landlords, some health authorities have up to a fifth of their accommodation standing empty and most have more accommodation than they really need. It cannot make sense for the Health Service to have so much money tied up in property when it could be used to provide better services.
Clearly the Health Service must continue to provide accommodation for some staff — particularly young student nurses and junior doctors. Where accommodation is provided it must be brought up to standard—and we will expect health authorities to do this. In other cases, accommodation can be sold to the staff who live in it, often at a substantial discount. That is to their advantage as well as freeing health service resources.
After consulting all the interested parties in the Health Service, we have decided to ask health authorities to look again at their holdings of accommodation, to sell vacant stock quickly and to make plans which will mean that they keep in the long term only the property they really need.
A circular is being issued to health authorities shortly explaining the procedures they should follow and the criteria they should apply in working out local plans. I shall be asking the NHS Management Board to make sure that this process is followed through.
I hope that the new guidelines on the provision of accommodation in the National Health Service will be of benefit both to staff and the health service itself. Many Health Service staff will be able to buy the homes they now live in at a discount, and the Health Service, by selling accommodation which it no longer really needs, 535W will have extra cash available both to improve the quality of the accommodation that it keeps and to invest in improving services to patients. This should mean that the Health Service will have many millions of pounds extra to spend over the next few years instead of being tied up in surplus property.