Health Service Funding

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 1:41 pm on 5th March 1997.

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Photo of Mr Den Dover Mr Den Dover , Chorley 1:41 pm, 5th March 1997

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on planned funding levels for the national health service in Scotland. [17322]

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

The Government have increased spending on the Scottish health service in real terms every year in this Parliament, and are pledged to continue to do so for every year in the next Parliament—a pledge that the Labour party has not matched.

Photo of Mr Den Dover Mr Den Dover , Chorley

As my right hon. and learned Friend will know, 43 per cent. of general practitioners are fundholders. Does he agree that, if the Labour party implemented its doctrinaire policies, that would be bad for the national health service and for patient care throughout Scotland?

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

I certainly agree that GP fundholding has produced innovation and flexibility, and our White Paper builds on that. We want to introduce more electronic links to general practices to improve the information available to GPs and reduce the amount of paperwork, as well as develop the role of community hospitals and, above all, make services available as close as possible to patients' homes.

Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe , Glasgow Maryhill

Madam Speaker, I wonder whether your eye slipped past the question of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight). Many hon. Members would like to discuss the matter. If not, may I—

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. If that question had been in order, I would have called it. It was unstarred. We are getting on with Question 10, on which the hon. Lady has been fortunate enough to be called.

Photo of Mrs Maria Fyfe Mrs Maria Fyfe , Glasgow Maryhill

Thank you, Madam Speaker. I had noticed that the hon. Member for Edgbaston was in the Chamber.

On the question tabled by the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover), does the Minister realise that if £1 million or more had not been paid to Mr. William Duff for ruining patients' teeth, there would have been £1 million more to spend on health care services in Greater Glasgow?

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

I agree that that dentist performed badly for his clients. I understand that some of them are suing him and that the matter will be properly resolved in the courts.

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware of reports in the west country press this weekend that suggest that, in Scotland, it is possible to get on the national health a particularly high grade of blood plasma product that is not available to English health authorities? It is further suggested that Scottish health authorities get a specific grant to enable them to buy that product. I realise that he may not been able to answer today, but if that is correct, does he agree that it is thoroughly unjustifiable, and yet another example of the fact that the Scots are already over-subsidised by English taxpayers?

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

I am delighted by that question, because all party leaders in Scotland have given blood, as I did on the occasion of the Scottish Grand Committee meeting in Hamilton.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

I assure the hon. Gentleman that my blood is every bit as red as his.

Giving blood is a friendly and comfortable process that performs an invaluable role in saving lives throughout Scotland. I shall follow up my hon. Friend's remarks.

Photo of Thomas McAvoy Thomas McAvoy , Glasgow Rutherglen

Is the Minister aware that the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Kynoch), stated that the private finance initiative would not be used to extend private sector responsibility"—[Official Report, Scottish Grand Committee, 20 May 1996; c. 3.] to the delivery of clinical services? If he is, does he remember his statement to the Scottish Grand Committee in Montrose on 17 February 1997, when he refused to rule out such involvement in clinical services? Who can we believe?

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

I can tell the hon. Gentleman exactly. The scope of schemes has to be determined locally. If a different model of provision of a certain service is to be explored, that exploration must be agreed by local management and clinicians. It is not for the Scottish Office to bar that from happening. In all cases, services will still be specified, monitored and funded by the Scottish health service. Clinical care would remain free at the point of delivery and would be based on clinical need.

Photo of Mr Ian Bruce Mr Ian Bruce , South Dorset

Does my right hon. and learned Friend believe that we are getting good value for money out of NHS managers in Scotland? Have they improved waiting lists and the throughput of patients? Has he calculated how many of those people will lose their jobs if Labour comes to power and takes money away from employing those managers to do their excellent work?

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

I agree with my hon. Friend that managers, as well as those at the sharp end of the health service, have an important role to play. Yesterday, the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) said that Labour would release £30 million for patient care by reducing the number of trust board members and cutting bureaucratic jobs. We have pledged to increase health service funding by £148 million next year. That has not been matched by the Opposition. The number of whole-time equivalent staff in the health service in Scotland has increased by 21 per cent.—from 62,000 in 1980 to nearly 75,000 in 1995. If £30 million has to be removed from the trusts by mergers, how many hundreds of people will lose their jobs? Will they be psychologists, optometrists, doctors or nurses? Opposition Members cannot avoid the reality that they refuse to increase resources for the health service in real terms—possibly because they have plans for an extremely expensive parliament in Scotland, the cost of which might approach £80 million.

Photo of Mr George Robertson Mr George Robertson Shadow Secretary of State

May I confirm that we will match the extra money to be put into the health service next year by the Government and that, on top of that, we will make sure that the Government's obsession with administration and bureaucracy, which has characterised all that they have done in the past few years, will be reversed and that priority will be given to patient care? Is the Minister aware—and is he proud of the fact—that, since the NHS reorganisation in 1991, administration costs have spiralled by almost £190 million a year, and that the Government's obsession with bureaucracy has meant that patient care has taken second place? By reducing the number of NHS trusts, we will reverse that trend. We will move away from posh foyers, big cars and highly paid accountants and put the money that is freed into patient care, which is what the public want.

Photo of Lord James Douglas-Hamilton Lord James Douglas-Hamilton , Edinburgh West

The hon. Gentleman has not given any pledge to increase funding in real terms for each year of the next Parliament. No Labour Front Bencher has done that. We have given such a commitment and it has not been matched. Every year from 1980 to 1995, the number of support staff in the Scottish health service has been reduced. It has fallen from 48,300 to 39,500. That shows that we have given top priority to patient care, and those at the sharp end. In the present year we have made certain that £14 million has been diverted from administration into patient care. Over and above that, the hon. Gentleman suggests a £30 million cut for NHS trusts. I am asking how many hundreds of jobs will be put at risk. I believe that many will be, and it is fair that the electorate should be warned about that before the threat can be put into action.