To ask the Secretary of State for Health what advice he is giving the Northern region health authority in respect of future applications for national health service trust status.
Is the Minister aware that there is deep resentment and anxiety in the Northern region about the Government's pushing hospitals to go for opted-out status? I am particularly concerned about the financial viability of the north-west Durham health application. Will he guarantee today that the business plans in connection with that application and others will be published so that people who now feel anxiety will be able to see for themselves precisely what the future offers?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already dealt with the question of the publication of business plans. I remind the hon. Lady that NHS trusts have an obligation to publish reports to the local public. That obligation is entirely new—it was never in the traditional model of management of the national health service.
Is not the situation in inner London rather different from that in the Northern region? In inner London there are 82 consultants and 420 beds per 100,000 population, whereas in the Northern region there are only 26 consultants and 260 beds per 100,000. Does that not show that in the past 10 years the Government, through the 39 major capital schemes in our region, have shown an unequalled commitment to the improvement of the health service in the Northern region, which is now being demonstrated by the number of local hospitals that wish to take on trust status so as better to serve their local population?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to draw attention to the difference between experience in London and that in the Northern region. He may be interested to know that experience so far of Northern region trusts is that the three existing trusts, in the six weeks that they have been in existence, have already created 11 new consultant posts. One might have hoped that the hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong) would welcome that.
To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will gather information on the experience of national health service trusts, with particular reference to staffing and finance.
Trusts are required to publish annual accounts and reports about their work. They are also required to submit business plans to the Department. They are free, however, to determine the number of staff they employ and to set the terms and conditions they offer them. We are confident that trusts will deliver real benefits to their local communities.
Would the hon. Lady care to estimate how long it will be before she receives the first application from the directors of an NHS trust to go completely private? Will she give an absolute assurance that if she is still the Minister and the present Government are still in power they will do absolutely nothing to enable NHS trusts to become completely private hospitals?
I find it positively incredible that a member of a party that cut resources for the health service in real terms, cut the capital building programme and cut nurses' pay, should have the outrageous cheek to ask a question of that sort. I can give the hon. Gentleman a clear assurance that NHS trusts are intended to ensure better management of the national health service for better patient care. That is what we have invested in the health service for, that is why we have increased the number of staff, that is why we have improved the training, and that is why we are now improving the management structure—to provide better patient care. There is no hidden agenda; there is no intention whatsoever that NHS trusts should do anything other than remain part of the national health service.
Is it not a fact that the national health service trusts came into operation just six weeks ago and that, while of course it would be perfectly valid in a year or two to evaluate how they are working out in practice, the present campaign by the Labour party against trusts, when they have barely started, is completely phoney?
As my hon. Friend will know, the Opposition, having so singularly failed to deliver when they were in control of the health service, now indulge in a policy of scaring rather than caring. We have seen it all before. We had it with general practitioner contracts and with the indicative list, and now we have it with trusts. We on the Conservative Benches know that we are right to be carrying forward between management plans for the health service.
Will the Minister confirm that she has again appointed Coopers and Lybrand Deloitte to study the information that she is receiving from the second wave? Will she this time allow the public who use the hospitals to see the report? Does she recognise that after the cuts at Guy's, Leeds and Bradford, the public this time will not fall for promises? The public will want to see the business plans to judge for themselves whether this time the promises about trusts are any less empty than they were last time.
What is clear is that we have revolutionised the amount of information that is available about the way in which the health service is managed. We shall not make public the report from Coopers and Lybrand Deloitte. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] It will be one of the many reports to the Secretary of State giving him the information on which to base his decision whether to establish a trust, the purpose of which is to satisfy himself that better patient care will be available. That will also be safeguarded by the contract with the district health authority, which is the champion of local people and improved services.