To ask the Secretary of State for Wales if he will make a statement on the performance of the new health authorities in Wales.
The annual review of district health authorities in the autumn will provide a major opportunity to assess authorities' performance in their new role as purchasers of health care. This will be backed up by rigorous monthly monitoring of in-year performance against the targets set in district health authorities' purchasing plans.
I am sure that the Minister is in favour of setting up the trust fund scheme in the national health service. Is he in a position to say how many hospitals in Wales have been consulted and how many he believes will opt for the new scheme? If he is, can he give an assurance to all Welsh hospital employees and to the people of Wales that it will not result in redundancies at the same rate as was announced last week for Guy's hospital and other hospitals in England?
So far, the Pembrokeshire district health authority has expressed interest in becoming a national health service hospital trust. That authority is balloting its staff on the application. As for the hon. Gentleman's wider remarks, no Government can ever give a guarantee about the future and no party can ever say that the same financial disciplines as operate in the rest of the world will not operate in the national health service. That means that the NHS has to operate within the budget that is set for it at the beginning of each year.
Mr. Alan Williams:
The Under-Secretary will recollect that over 18 months ago, his Department and the health authority set up an inquiry into the future of the casualty unit in Swansea. At a very constructive meeting, the hon. Gentleman told me that he intended to make an announcement before the end of the last financial year. As 30,000 signatures appear on a petition that was presented to his Department, will he bear in mind that there will be great bitterness if eventually it emerges that the reason for the delay—a delay that he had not anticipated—is that the announcement might harm his party in next Thursday's local elections?
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is a matter of great concern to the people of Swansea and that is why we are considering the points that have been made most seriously. The right hon. Gentleman presented me with a petition of 30,000 signatures. I visited the unit myself and during that visit I received a deputation. We are now considering further representations. It is taking longer because we are consulting so widely. I hope to reach a decision shortly, but the plans were put forward by the West Glamorgan health authority.
I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement that a new hospital will be built for Neath and Port Talbot. It is long overdue and I congratulate the health unions, the community health council and local people for the way in which they have campaigned for many years to persuade the Welsh Office to support that new project. However, I remind the Secretary of State that there remains a deep health crisis in the area. For example, a constituent of mine who has been waiting 19 months for a cataract operation in Gwaun-cae-gurwen has been told that he will have to wait a further three months. The 1,400 patients on that waiting list are still waiting and the health authority has been told that it does not have the funding to meet that desperate need. When will the Government provide the necessary resources?
I note what the hon. Gentleman says and I am grateful to him for his support for the new hospital. We greatly regret the increase in the waiting lists, but it is part of the success of the national health service that, because new technologies and treatments are becoming available and people are living longer, more people are being treated. That is an important fact to remember. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me about his constituent, I shall write to him about the matter, but we have set up three sub-regional treatment centres, one of which is for cataract operations.