We are continuing to encourage health authorities to co-operate with the private sector. We recently discussed with regional health authority chairmen the scope for a closer partnership between the two sectors and hope shortly to continue that discussion with district health authority chairmen.
Does my right hon. Friend know that the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) called, in a recent speech in my constituency, for the requisition of private clinics? Would not such action completely destroy the fundamental partnership between the private and public sectors? Is it not in the interests of medicine in the widest sense of the word and of about 300,000 trade unionists that the private sector should flourish, encouraged by the Government of the day?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The private sector adds to total health care, and it must be the right of any individual to use his money for private health insurance schemes. The Labour party's official pledges and those of the right hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) can be seen as acts of vandalism against the Health Service.
Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that he is not combining private and public health care, but is hiving off sectors of public care to the private sector? That is what he is doing in Halifax. He has asked Calderdale health authority, which is unanimous in wanting a new laundry in Halifax under state supervision, to transfer laundry care to private operators. That is wholly against the wishes of the staff and of Calderdale health authority.
Calderdale health authority saw my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health and is examining the figures that have been put forward. The policy decision rests with the authority. Clearly, we do not intend to destroy the partnership that we want to develop between the private sector and the NHS. That is entirely the Labour party's policy.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the private sector is also of great benefit to ordinary NHS patients, who would be infinitely further down the queue if a substantial number of people did not choose to spend their money, on which they have paid taxes, on their health care? In addition to speaking to the health authorities, will my right hon. Friend have a talk with my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer about giving positive help to people who wish to employ their money in insurance for health care?
As my hon. Friend recognises, that is a question for my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend is right to say that private health care adds to the sum total of health care. The 4 million people insured by private health insurance schemes include many trade unionists. The Opposition should bear that in mind.
What is the Secretary of State's view of the large private hospitals, such as the one that has recently opened in London, which have many obstetric and paediatric beds and which take paediatricians from the NHS? Is he aware that paediatricians are in short supply, as are the specially trained nurses who care for ill neonates? They are almost unobtainable in NHS units. Indeed, consultants in NHS units are having to turn babies away because they cannot get trained nurses to staff their beds. How does the right hon. Gentleman justify that? It is not partnership, but robbery.
I am quite prepared to look at any case that the hon. Lady puts to me. However, our policy is to encourage partnership between the private sector and the NHS. If the hon. Lady wants a good example of that partnership and of the role that the private sector plays in training, she should visit the Nuffield hospital in Wolverhampton, near her constituency, where she will see the post-registration training that is organised there by the private sector.
If my right hon. Friend has not already done so, will he evaluate the costs of similar services in the private and public sectors? Will he ensure that where it is cheaper—as it sometimes certainly is—to achieve the same provision in the private sector, that provision is used for the full benefit of NHS patients?
I quite agree that there is a danger in having a monopoly in any service, or in any area. One of the very positive things that the private sector does is to show that things can be organised differently and, at times, better.
Since the Secretary of State is so committed to private practice, will he recognise that there is a fundamental flaw in it? Doctors engage in it to make money. As that is their motive, they have a financial incentive to undertake treatment that need not be given and to cut corners at the risk of a patient. Does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that the partnership of which he boasts between private practice and the NHS means that the NHS often has to repair the damage done by private doctors such as Dr. Dutta of the Harley Street Diagnostic Clinic? Does not the Secretary of State accept that that is injurious to the patient and a burden on the NHS?
The hon. Gentleman must recognise that the ability of consultants to work within the private sector has existed since the inception of the NHS, and under successive Labour Governments. The only policy or alternative that the hon. Gentleman can put forward on behalf of his party is the abolition of pay beds and the banning of private sector medicine. The public will choose, and they will decide against the hon. Gentleman.