As the House will know, more than 1,700 general practitioners are voluntarily taking part in the fundholding scheme, which in its first year already covers 7–5 per cent. of the population of England. I am sure that my hon. Friend will join me in welcoming the agreement reached with the representatives of the medical profession on joint guidance for hospital consultants on GP fundholding which I announced last Tuesday.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that my constituency includes one of the GP fundholders to which he refers? That practice recently began hiring a consultant —paid for out of NHS funds—to ensure that patients are seen within one month, rather than have to wait for up to a year, as they previously did after being referred to Oldchurch hospital in Romford. Will my hon. Friend congratulate that practice on its initiative and acknowledge that it makes a better use of funds, gives a faster and better deal to the patient and reduces hospital waiting lists?
I am delighted to congratulate the practice to which my hon. Friend refers. It is just one example of how GP fundholders throughout the country are showing how to make better use of the money for patients. They are showing also how the NHS, which already does extremely well for its patients, can do even better if we can improve on devolving money to where decisions should be taken.
Will the Secretary of State take this opportunity to explain the claim that he made on the record that patients of fundholders bring new money with them? Will he confirm that every penny in GPs' budgets has been deducted from health authorities' budgets? Is not it a confidence trick to pretend that the same money becomes new money when laundered via GPs? He told us that 40 per cent. of GPs are expected to become fundholders. How will any number of pilot projects help health managers to plan for local needs with 40 per cent. less money in their budgets?
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman, who has been rather left behind in these matters, is catching up. It is perfectly clear that all NHS money comes from taxpayers. If the hon. Gentleman has just discovered that, it is wonderful. We have allocated some of that money to GP fundholders through the regional mechanisms available to us. Every year, we win new money for the health service and I hope that we shall do so again. We have a much better record than the Labour party on that.
On the hon. Gentleman's second point, it is perfectly clear that the close working relationship between GPs and districts can be developed further. I am looking at new ways of making that co-operation even more practical and efficient.