"Working for Patients"

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st February 1989.

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Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 12:00 am, 21st February 1989

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how much has been spent on publicising the proposals in the recent health White Paper, 'Working for Patients'.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for Health

The sum of £1,250,000 has been allocated and spent on the launch of the White Paper.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

Is that not an outrageous sum to have been diverted from patient care to give the Secretary of State greater publicity opportunities? Will that diversion of funds from patient care not be a characteristic of the reforms that he is setting out, not least if they involve a massive amount of invoicing, charging and recharging, all of which will add to the bureaucratic costs of the Health Service without helping patients?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for Health

I regard it as a bargain at the price when one considers that we were explaining complicated proposals to a service that employs more than 1 million people and consumes £26 billion of taxpayers' money each year. In the past, the Health Service has not communicated well with its staff and, at times, has been reminiscent of the worst features of the car industry in the 1960s and 1970s, by its complete failure to communicate with its own staff. We embarked on a modest attempt to explain to people the implications of our proposals for their careers and their patients. The costs, incidentally, include things such as the popular leaflet and short communications pack, which I know that many in the House are using, let alone people outside.

Photo of Mr Jerry Hayes Mr Jerry Hayes , Harlow

In welcoming the way in which my right hon. and learned Friend has taken time and effort to sell his policies and the way in which he has used money to do so, may I ask him to encourage some of his Cabinet colleagues to do the same?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for Health

I know that at least one of my Cabinet colleagues has been interested in my experience of teleconferencing, and the same method will be used again. Given that the Government explain their policies in White Papers and other ways, it is absurd that we are not allowed to explain them to those mostly directly affected, using the most modern methods of communication. The cost is modest. The literature, videos and everything else contain no hint of party political material and we adhere extremely strictly to the conventions that surround these matters.

Photo of Andrew Smith Andrew Smith Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what estimates he has made of the additional administrative costs of National Health Service hospital trusts, general practitioner budgets and other proposals in the White Paper, "Working for Patients".

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for Health

No overall assessment of costs can be made in advance of decisions about the details and pace of implementation. I have no doubt that the NHS needs to invest in modern management methods.

Photo of Andrew Smith Andrew Smith Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

It is not irresponsible of the Secretary of State to bring forward these proposals without having estimated the administrative costs? Does he not accept that his proposals will absorb, in the administration of wasteful competition, resources that should go into patient care? Will he give the House a straight answer to a straight question? Will administrative costs fall or rise? If the latter, who will pay?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Secretary of State for Health

We made some provision for administrative costs in last year's autumn settlement when we allocated £2 billion. Money will certainly need to be put up front for investment in modern management techniques to achieve savings thereafter and to make better use of that money for patients.

As I said in my main reply, the Health Service needs to invest in that sort of modern management information. En any event, it is absurd that a huge service that spends £26,000 million each year cannot say with certainty where any individual sums of money go or what any facility costs or requires to be spent on it. All our investment in modern management techniques is essential to produce a stronger and better run National Health Service.