We welcome close collaboration between the NHS and the independent sector including, where appropriate, making premises available on NHS land. However, the hon. Gentleman should be aware that health authorities have no power to provide finance for private homes, though they can of course buy places on contract.
Is the Minister not worried that ward 5 at Fazakerley hospital in Liverpool was closed recently, causing considerable distress to the elderly patients, and that a private nursing home for 85 people is being established, no doubt at a price? Is it not incongruous that National Health Service wards are closed but the private sector is allowed to get its profits out of nursing homes in the precincts of an NHS hospital?
It sounds as though part of the proposal is a good idea. The hon. Gentleman may like to check with his constituents in Liverpool before he takes that line. The total number of council-provided homes for elderly people in Liverpool stands at 43, providing 1,600 places, and the total number of private homes in Liverpool stands at 66, providing 1,800 places. The private and voluntary sectors in Liverpool are already providing most of the care for old people.
Will my hon. Friend confirm that once the Health and Medicines Bill is enacted it will be possible for district health authorities to enter into collaborative projects with private health providers and, if the authorities want, to provide private hospital accommodation in their own right?