Private Health

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th February 1990.

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Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle 12:00 am, 20th February 1990

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what powers his Department has in the monitoring of private hospital medical charges and private medical insurance premiums.

Photo of Mr Roger Freeman Mr Roger Freeman , Kettering

None. However, health care providers and insurers operate in a competitive market, which helps to control their fees and subscriptions.

Photo of Mr John Lee Mr John Lee , Pendle

With the number of people covered by private medical insurance now approaching 10 per cent. of the population, increasing public concern about the level and variation of charges, continually escalating premiums and the fact that the Government now have a direct vested interest because of tax relief for the elderly, will my hon. Friend consider appointing a private sector health commissioner to police this sector and investigate complaints?

Photo of Mr Roger Freeman Mr Roger Freeman , Kettering

The latest figure is that 12 per cent. of the population is covered by private insurance. Some 15 per cent. of elective surgery is performed in private hospitals. It is not the Government's responsibility to control those costs. I share my hon. Friend's concern, but it is for the patient, when he or she takes out an insurance policy to read the small print and be aware of what the charges may be for elective surgery in the private sector.

Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook , Livingston

If the Minister will not monitor the excessive charges of private hospitals, will he at least condemn them? Does he agree that it is an outrage that BUPA, the British United Provident Association, should have charged £168 for a cotton swab and £983 for a drug that cost £13? How does that happen in a competitive market? Now that we know, thanks to the National Audit Office, that the NHS can do most operations at half the cost of private hospitals, would not the Minister get better value for his money by putting public money into public hospitals rather than by paying for tax relief on inefficient, private ones?

Photo of Mr Roger Freeman Mr Roger Freeman , Kettering

I think that the hon. Gentleman is misinformed about the National Audit Office report. If he reads it carefully, he will see that the NAO reported that, for the £50 million that the National Health Service spent in private hospitals on long-term contracts for 30,000 patients, it got "good value for money".

Photo of Mr Nicholas Bennett Mr Nicholas Bennett , Pembroke

On several occasions I have asked the Department of Health for comparative figures on the costs of NHS operations, only to be told that the information is not collected centrally. Is it not about time that we did so, to find out why there are such vast differences in the cost of the same operations in different health districts?

Photo of Mr Roger Freeman Mr Roger Freeman , Kettering

Through the introduction of the new performance indicators, we have the first year's results for 1987–88, and will shortly have the 1988–89 figures. They will enable my hon. Friend and other National Health Service patients to compare the performance of districts and hospitals, one with the other.