Is my hon. Friend aware that, with the exception of Belgium, Britain has the lowest contribution from the private health sector as a percentage of gross national product of any other country? Will he and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have words with our right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see what can be done to encourage the private sector to make a greater effort in the health services, thereby releasing funds for our National Health Service?
I am sure that my right hon. Friend will take note of the points that have been made. It is vital to harness all available resources for the provision of health care. Some hon. Members insist that health care must be entirely publicly funded. That is a dogmatic and narrow-minded approach to a most important problem.
Does the Minister recall that in November her department released £250,000 to the west midlands on the express condition that it should be spent on private operations? Is she aware that, on inquiry, the west midlands authority discovered that private hospitals were charging £400 more for a hysterectomy and £700 more for a hip replacement than was being charged in its own hospitals? In the meantime, Wolverhampton has suspended all hip operations for the financial year. As it is clear from that experience that the NHS gives better value for money, why does the Minister leave its operating theatres empty while filling the pockets of commercial medicine?
I take exception to the hon. Gentleman's synthetic indignation. The west midlands experience shows that it is important, right from the start, properly to negotiate cost-effective terms with the private sector, or indeed with anybody else. Our view is that the only question that matters is whether it helps the patient, as we expect cost effectiveness in all services.