I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Did he have the opportunity to discuss with the contract cleaners the amount of money saved as a result of competitive tendering in the north-west region and the impact of the savings on patient care? When existing contracts come up for renewal, will he ask regional health authorities to examine the different savings at different units to see what lessons can be learnt, in the interests of further savings and improvements in the quality of cleaning?
Yes, Sir. I discussed those issues with the CCMA, which drew my attention to the fact—my hon. Friend knows this—that about £9 million had been saved in the north-west region. I stress that about 85 per cent. of the contracts have been awarded in-house as a result of the excellent work of the NHS. The arrangements save money, which is put to good effect in patient care.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us are baffled at the opposition to competitive tendering for cleaning and other services, given that it works so well in industry and other organisations and that it will obviously benefit patient care because more funds will go direct to the sharp end?
I have to share my hon. Friend's bafflement. I find it difficult to believe that anyone can disagree that any money saved by the more efficient delivery of health care is to the benefit of the Health Service and of patients, which is what the Health Service is all about.
When the Secretary of State met the contractors, did he remind them of the squalor and filth to which many of them have reduced our hospitals? Did he read last month's article in the British Medical Journal, which concluded that with privatisation
Cheapness seems to have ousted quality"?
Did he read last week's report containing a survey of one hospital in which private contractors left uncleaned bloodstains for three weeks in the operating theatre? When he next meets the private contractors, will he tell them that he will give back to health authorities the right—without ministerial interference—to sack those cowboys who put their profits before the patients?
I saw the thoroughly misleading article from the Association of London Authorities, which, among other things, reported criticism of Westminster hospital from more than two years ago. The cause of that criticism has been corrected, as confirmed by a recent community health council visit to the hospital site. I would listen far more seriously to Opposition Members on this subject if one of them, at least, would join me in deploring the postponement in Scotland of 2,447 operations already because of the activities of the unions in relation to this issue.