HC Deb 11 March 1993 vol 220 cc703-4W
Mrs. Lait

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what changes are planned in the future administration of the NHS low income scheme and the health benefits unit.

Dr. Mawhinney

The future of the health benefits unit at Newcastle which assesses claims for charge remission under the national health service low income scheme has been under consideration for some time in parallel with a wide ranging review of the scheme itself. I have now concluded that the best option for improving administration is to transfer responsibility for the scheme to the Prescription Pricing Authority (PPA), a special health authority within the NHS. This transfer will take effect on 1 April 1993. Some 360 Department of Social Security (DSS) staff currently employed at the unit and who handle approximately 1.2 million claims per annum on behalf of the Department of Health will be seconded to the PPA from that date. Thereafter, they will be given the opportunity either to transfer to the NHS on a permanent basis or return to DSS as vacancies arise. There are no plans for either voluntary or compulsory redundancy. DSS Ministers have agreed the planned transfer.

Transferring responsibility to the PPA generates significant opportunities for improving the administration of the scheme, and will enable progress to be made towards computerisation of both record keeping and the claims assessment process. The extent to which the recommendations made following the review of the scheme's administration, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health announced on 22 May 1991, might contribute to these opportunities is receiving careful study. In reaching final decisions we shall need to take account of current public expenditure constraints, but I hope to make a further announcement soon.

Arrangements have been made with the Scottish and Welsh Offices that claims from these countries should, for the present, continue to be handled by the PPA.