At the end of the third quarter, provider units remained on course to achieve a financial balance this year, as we had reported earlier at the end of the second quarter.
Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that there was an attempt to cover up the fact that many of those units are in serious financial difficulties? Since the matter is in the public domain, as a consequence of information from his Department reaching the public which was not intended to reach them, how does he propose to deal with the matter? What proposals has he to put before the House this afternoon?
The hon. Gentleman is heading towards a vulnerable area for the Opposition. I advise him not to embarrass his hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) in that way. The national health service is greatly improved, in that for many years—including those years when the Labour party was running, or reported to be running the country—the financial balance of the service was poor. This year we have treated many more patients than previously and the service is in financial balance. The leaked document showed only the most commonsense action by the NHS management executive to monitor those hospitals where there are problems. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that that is odd it merely shows that, in common with the hon. Member for Livingston, he has had no experience of such matters.
Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity to read the scandalously deceitful national health service trust ballot which was put through my constituents' letter boxes by Labour-controlled Harlow council—at an expense to the charge payers of £25,000? Is my right hon. Friend at all surprised that the local health authority wants nothing to do with that document because it is pure Labour party propaganda and a cynical manipulation of the elderly and the frail? Will Labour stop at nothing to grab a few cheap jokes?
I had the opportunity to study the document because my hon. Friend drew it to my attention as we came into the Chamber. It is a classic example of the waste of local taxpayers' money by a foolish council which would do much better to spend the money on the services for which it is statutorily responsible.
How does the Secretary of State square his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) that provider units are in balance with the evidence from the document, which he knows well, that 86 hospitals are in deficit? Many of them face major cuts to balance at the end of the year and one of them has dangerously low nursing levels. How many hospitals, such as Watford, have big deficits? How many health authorities, such as Tunbridge Wells, cannot pay for routine operations and how many district health authorities, such as South Birmingham, cannot pay any more bills until April? Is the reason that the Secretary of State objects to the leak that the document tells the truth about those hospitals and exposes his cover-up?
The hon. Gentleman is a bit confused. If 86 hospitals have some problems, it means that another 500 do not. Some of those 500 are in surplus and, as the health service is a unified service, those surpluses can be transferred to deal with the problems. There is nothing astonishing about that.