I beg to move,
That this House
welcomes the principle of Foundation Hospitals as a means of improving and enhancing patient care and giving hospitals the opportunity to operate free from political and ministerial interference;
regrets the timidity of the Government, which is restricting applications for Foundation status solely to those hospitals enjoying 3-star status;
fears that this restriction will create a two-tier health service, to the detriment of patients and staff, and therefore urges the Government to allow all hospitals to bid for Foundation status;
calls for clarification of contradictions between ministerial statements and guidance contained in the Department of Health's 'A Guide to NHS Foundation Trusts, December 2002' about how Foundation Hospitals are intended to operate;
and further calls on the Government to resolve widely publicised ministerial differences, which are likely to deter hospitals from seeking Foundation status.
If anyone had any doubts about the rising panic inside the Government because of their failure to deliver on health, they only had to read the report by Michael Barber, the head of the Prime Minister's delivery unit, in this morning's Financial Times. It says:
Xthe most urgent task is to establish local plans that can take advantage of the unprecedented three-year spending settlement given to primary care trusts . . . This, the document says, is 'being managed to a very tight timetable . . . we are . . . concerned that there has not been enough forethought and planning [by the health department] for this one-off opportunity . . . the risk is immense.'"
It goes on to say that the report
Xraises concerns about the health department itself, which it says needs 'to get the right people into the right jobs faster'".
Most of us would drink to that.
There can be no clearer evidence of a split in the Government than to contrast Mr. Barber's report with early-day motion 351. He says that the report
Xdisplays Downing Street impatience with the speed at which Mr Milburn and the health department have pursued the 'choice and diversity' agenda—aimed at bringing in more help from the private sector and giving patients who wait more than six months a choice over where they are treated."
Contrast that with early-day motion 351, which states:
XThis House notes with concern the intention by Government to introduce foundation hospitals, which would create a two tier NHS system".
It is signed by 109 Labour Members. The only real omission from the list is the person who is most in sympathy with those objections and most able to block the policy: the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has put obstructions in the way at every possible point.
The background to today's debate is what Labour promised before it was elected, and what it has done since. Three questions need to be asked. Have Labour's policies actually worked? Is the approach behind the policies correct? What needs to be done to address the situation? Everyone inside and outside the House will remember hearing, before 1997, Labour's great slogan, X24 hours to save the NHS"—but I doubt that any thinking member of the Labour party, or even the Prime Minister in his embryonic rampant egomania, believed that the NHS could be changed within 24 hours. What they meant was: when they were in office, those wicked Tories starved the NHS of money, and if we only throw more money at the system, everything will be all right.
The Labour Government have spent a lot of money—there is no doubt about that. In the past two years, real-terms spending on the NHS has increased by more than 20 per cent.—but there has been an increase of only 1.6 per cent. in finished consultant episodes, which is one of the main ways in which we measure hospital activity, and last year there was a 0.5 per cent. fall in the number of hospital admissions. The Prime Minister says that schools and hospitals are the priority, but if such a sum has gone into the NHS and activity levels have risen by only a fraction, what has gone wrong?
Given the hon. Gentleman's concern about health spending, will he tell us what proportion of the Tories' proposed 20 per cent. cut should, in his judgment, be inflicted on the health service?
I think that any party that wants to improve health care in this country must first decide what reforms to the system are required; once that has been done, it is prudent to decide what expenditure is required to deliver those reforms. The problem is that the current Government decided how much money they were going to spend before they had the foggiest idea how they would spend it. They have simply thrown money into a black hole, and they are raising taxes to do so, with all the implications that that has for the economy, but nothing is coming out on the other side.
I will take further interventions in a moment.
The Government's excuse is that they have been working not only within hospitals, but outside them, for example, in general practice—yet there is a record number of closed practice lists, so patients cannot get to see a GP; the waiting time to see a GP is lengthening; and there is a disaster in recruitment to general practice. Simply to meet the Government's target of staying where they were within the national plan, an extra 2,000 GPs had to be recruited between 2000 and 2004. How many were recruited in 2000? Eighteen. How many in 2001? Eighteen. How on earth do they propose to meet their targets when they cannot recruit the basic staff to the health service to do those jobs? The NHS plan is being turned into nothing more than a glorified wish list.
The number of GPs currently practising is at record levels. As for the hon. Gentleman's point about the number of admissions falling in the past year, much of that is due to GPs now having many alternatives to admitting patients to hospital, such as patients being looked after in their home, or being referred to social services or care in the community. The fact that hospital admissions are falling is not necessarily a bad thing—it is a good thing.
There is nothing better in a debate than an own goal. As the Labour party constantly points out, it has been in office for six years. It takes nine years to train a GP, so if there is now a record number of GPs, it must be because they began training under the last Conservative Government.
Is my hon. Friend aware that a few years ago in my constituency, in the town of Hunstanton, one used to be able to see one's GP the following day, whereas it now takes up to three weeks? There is a crisis in primary care in my constituency.
That is a serious issue of great concern to our constituents, who, in the real world rather than the virtual NHS that Ministers talk about, are finding it much more difficult to see their GP when they want to, at short notice. That shows how extremely difficult things are in general practice now. We are finding it difficult to recruit GPs, and many are about to retire, which will make the situation worse. The increasing pressure on GPs, not least the huge burden of paperwork that they now face, is making it increasingly difficult for them to spend time with their patients, as opposed to dealing with the red tape.
Apart from the failures in primary care that my hon. Friend Mr. Bellingham mentioned, there are many other areas of policy delivery in which the Government have failed, despite what we all agree is a very large increase in spending. The mixed-sex wards, which were to be abolished, are still with us, and hospital-acquired infections are at a record level: 5,000 people died as a result of a hospital-acquired infection last year; that represents 1 per cent. of all deaths. That is a record, and we are out of line with what is happening in other countries. It is an absolute scandal. The number of hospital beds has fallen since Labour came to power, despite what it said it would do, yet the number of administrators has gone up.
The #280 million earmarked for cancer went to clearing NHS debts, and a further #255 million earmarked for cancer did not get through to the front line. The number of patients starting radiotherapy treatment within the Government's four-week target has fallen from 68 per cent. in 1998 to just 32 per cent. in 2000. There are 60,000 fewer care home beds. Last year there were 77,000 cancelled operations—a 54 per cent. increase since the year that the Government came to office.
One third of all new nursing graduates and a quarter of medical graduates are now failing to practise, and last year the number of nurses choosing to leave the United Kingdom and work abroad was at a 10-year high—hardly a vote of confidence.
There is not a country in the world that does not have limits on what it can spend on health care. The problem for all western countries is how to get the best value health provision out of a given budget. In the United Kingdom we have quite a divergent range of experience. In England, for example, expenditure has generally been well below the European average, and we have seen the problems related to that. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have considerably higher expenditure, yet do not have higher outputs or better clinical outcomes; in fact, in some of the other parts of the United Kingdom the waiting lists are rising faster.
That raises questions not simply about the amounts of money but about the process. That is what the debate should focus on, and what I want to talk about in the substantive part of the debate is how the Government's plans for foundation hospitals will move the process forward so that we do not simply throw money at the system without substantial reform. I would say to Mr. Harris that without substantial reform we will simply raise taxes and spend more money, but we will get no delivery, and he will get no thanks from the electorate.
My hon. Friend mentioned hospital-acquired infections. Is he aware that the rate of death from hospital-acquired infections is higher in this country than in the former Soviet Union? What does that say about the relationship between expenditure and performance?
I am not sure that is says a huge amount about the relationship between expenditure and performance, but it says a great deal about process, about the culture within the service, and about the way in which we allocate the available funding in our health care budget to preventive treatment, and basic cleanliness and hygiene. As I have said before, that is largely a matter of culture. It does not cost money or require a handout from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to wash one's hands between patients; it requires a particular approach to clinical care.
We have to ask why in this country the levels of hospital-acquired infection are so much higher than those in other countries. I have heard Labour Members say that that is because we contract out our cleaning—but that is one of the most preposterous ideas I have heard in my life. In Germany recently, when I was with a consultant, someone from the BBC said, XThis hospital is so clean, you must have in-house cleaning." The consultant replied, XOf course we don't have in-house cleaning. We contract out our cleaning." The BBC representative said, XBut we've contracted out our cleaning, and our hospitals are filthy." The consultant replied, XIf you've contracted out your cleaning and your hospitals are filthy, why do you pay the contractors?" We should ask that question far more in this country than we do at present.
The policy is not working because basically the Government have failed to tackle the No.1 problem in health delivery in this country—we have a centralised, bureaucratic and monolithic Whitehall-controlled system. The Government have made matters worse by piling on to that system a ludicrous, almost pathologically obsessive target culture, in contradiction to their rhetoric. They talk about devolving power within the NHS, and the Secretary of State has talked about the fact that primary care trusts can now spend 75 per cent. of the NHS budget. They can handle 75 per cent. of the NHS budget, but they do not have the discretion to decide how they spend it, which limits what they can do in their own locality and their freedom to do what they think necessary for their own health population. Consequently, the Secretary of State is still in control of the entire system, which is a big problem. That approach leads to deprofessionalisation—professionals on the front line, whether medical, nursing, administrative or managerial, with the skills to make appropriate decisions, are prevented from doing so by people in Whitehall who think that they always know best.
That is a recipe for demoralisation and makes recruitment and retention difficult, as we now see. It is also a recipe for distortion and dishonesty. Recently, one in eight hospital managers admitted to distorting figures to fit Government targets. One manager said:
XAll chief executives in the region contrived to make the same 100 per cent. return to the Department of Health on the absence of waits in A and E. This was done with the encouragement of the regional director because we all agreed the requirement was meaningless".
What basis is that for running a health service?
Has the hon. Gentleman not missed the point about the most important issue in health? Surely, the biggest issue underlying acute health needs across the country is prevention, and the key matter in prevention is poverty. Do the Conservatives recognise poverty as a cause of ill health or, if we ever had the misfortune of them getting back into power, would they continue to ignore it?
There is no doubt that there is at least some truth in what the hon. Gentleman says. Poverty is a contributory factor to a number of disease processes, but in the western world we are also seeing for the first time the morbidity of affluence, such as the huge increase in obesity and type 2 diabetes in this country, which will force us to change our mindset on preventive health care. We must start to weigh those things up, but I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman chose preventive health and public health policy as a means of attempting to attack the Conservative party. Under the Government, there has been a virtual abandonment of public health policy—there has been no proper response to the huge growth of HIV, TB or the burgeoning cost on the system of type 2 diabetes. Public health has been systematically downgraded by the Government. A Conservative Government would put public health as well as mental health at the top of the agenda, but sadly they have been moved too far down by the present Government.
I like to be fair in these debates when talking about the Government's promises so I should say that it is not long since the Secretary of State told the House that Britain has a monopoly supplier in the NHS. As long as Labour is in power, he said, that is how it would stay. There has certainly been a change in his position, rhetoric and policy in recent months. The best analogy is the programme XBlockbusters". I am sure you know the one I mean, Mr. Speaker—we could, for example, take a Xt" and see what it stands for. Let us take a Xp". What Xp" would describe a Conservative policy to use the private finance initiative exclusively to fund private capital projects; sign a concordat for greater co-operation with the private sector; buy the exclusive use of a private BUPA hospital for patients; bring in private management to run NHS hospitals; give PCTs powers to buy private provision for their patients; and give NHS trusts the ability to borrow private money outside Government limits? What Xp" would the Labour party use to describe that Conservative policy? The answer is privatisation.
I do not object to any of the policies that I already have laid out, which are entirely in line with what the Conservative party would like. It is the hypocrisy of the Government's approach, pretending to do one thing, but in fact doing another, that I find offensive and which, I am sure, lies behind the 109 signatures to early-day motion 351, which was tabled recently.
On the subject of hypocrisy, a concordat for co-operation was signed with the private sector. However, at the same time King Edward VII hospital in Midhurst, which served many of my constituents who needed cardiac surgery, is in danger of closing because the health service no longer sends patients there. What does my hon. Friend say about that?
Double-thinking is part of new Labour: it has an Orwellian nature, and the fact that it says one thing and does exactly the opposite should come as no surprise to anyone after six years. However, any loss of capacity in the area of clinical care described by my hon. Friend is tragic when we still have huge waiting lists, notwithstanding the fact that the Government have been throwing money at the health service as if there were no tomorrow.
However, it is only fair that when we support a policy, we should say so. We can take some comfort in the Government's proposals on foundation hospitals. An incoming Conservative Government would feel comfortable with the direction that the Labour Government are taking, as they are moving towards the sort of policies that we want—a dramatic decentralisation of the NHS and a reduction in politicisation. If the proposals are implemented properly, people on the front line would get more freedom and patients would get more choice. However, there must be action, not just rhetoric.
When the Secretary of State made a statement on the foundation proposals, I asked a number of questions. I took note of your comments, Mr. Speaker, to my hon. Friend Mr. Blunt about the delay in answering questions. Since the Secretary of State's statement, I have tabled more than 50 questions on foundation hospitals, to which I have had no reply, which is staggering. Foundation hospitals are one of the Government's flagship health policies, but Ministers are unable to answer some basic questions. I therefore thought that I might take advantage of our Opposition day debate, and use the rare opportunity of getting the Secretary of State to respond by putting some of my questions to him again.
My questions fall into a number of categories. What freedoms will foundation hospitals have? Will NHS foundation trusts be able to carry out work for private patients through the medium of subsidiary companies and public-private partnership arrangements? Will they have the freedom to vary pay and conditions for clinical conditions outside the Xagenda for change" arrangements announced by the Secretary of State? Will they be required to charge standard tariffs for each area of activity? Those are important questions about the running of foundation hospitals.
On finance, will borrowing by NHS foundation trusts from the private sector be guaranteed by the Secretary of State, strategic health authorities, PCTs or other NHS bodies? Such a basic question has not yet been answered. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the willingness of the private sector to lend money for capital projects to NHS foundation trusts in the absence of security on related assets? Will NHS foundation trusts be able to transfer their existing assets as part of a private finance initiative transaction, and can they invest surplus financial assets as they wish? What consultation has the Secretary of State had with the Office for National Statistics about the classification of NHS foundation trusts in the national accounts, and what advice has he received? It is a crucial question whether NHS foundation trusts are truly part of the state sector or not, yet on that fundamental issue there is still radio silence from the Secretary of State.
On the board of governors and management, will the board of governors of an NHS foundation trust be able to remove members of a management board? Will local authorities be able to appoint members to the board of governors of an NHS foundation trust? What provision will there be for election to boards of governors of NHS foundation trusts? There is no answer.
On the regulator—one of the stipulations that the Chancellor made to ensure that there was not profligacy—we have asked in what ways the independent regulator will be independent of the Secretary of State; what freedom the independent regulator will have to interpret the terms XNHS standards" and XNHS values" when deciding to issue and monitor foundation trust licences; and whether the Secretary of State will have the power of direction over the independent regulator for foundation trusts.
On the application, what policy will primary care trusts need to have towards a foundation trust application to allow such an application to go forward? Which PCTs will be entitled to have their views considered? As I pointed out in our last exchange, in my constituency, we have no acute hospital. Will our PCT therefore have a right to be consulted, and will my constituents, who are not patients in a constituency where there happens to be an acute hospital, have the right to be consulted? What evidence will be required to demonstrate that local people support an application for foundation status?
As he did in his statement, the Secretary of State will no doubt wrap all that up in public ownership terms and speak of the great progress for the co-operative movement, but ownership implies a financial stake and independence. There will be no financial stake, and the Secretary of State will be able to take back foundation status at will. That is not ownership, in my book.
Does my hon. Friend agree that if those hospitals are to have true freedom, they must have the freedom to buy and sell assets as they see fit in pursuance of their medical and clinical aims, and they need to be free to borrow on the private markets with or without a Government guarantee?
There are a number of basic freedoms that have to be defined to make foundation hospitals genuinely independent. We need to hear clearly from the Secretary of State how far the Government are willing to extend such freedoms or, as my right hon. Friend correctly pointed out, the whole exercise will be a complete sham. There is danger in the Government deciding what the prescription ought to be, but being unable to deliver it, for a number of primarily political reasons.
As well as the unanswered questions, there are several enormous contradictions in the prospectus that the Government have issued on foundation hospitals. They have sent a huge number of confused messages. The prospectus claims that the foundation trusts will be free. It states that
Xthe new regime will be clearly defined in legislation, independent of the Secretary of State and designed to give NHS Foundation Trusts maximum freedom to operate."
However, as the prospectus also makes clear, the trusts will be restricted in a number of ways—for example, in relation to which patients they can treat. Under paragraph 1.30, the licence will restrict the number of private patients that foundation trusts can treat. Paragraph 1.34 will restrict the services that they can provide. Long-term legally binding service agreements with primary care trusts will restrict the types of services that foundation trusts can provide. That is not freedom.
Whom will foundation trusts be able to employ? The prospectus claims in paragraph 1.37 that an NHS foundation trust will be free to recruit and employ its own staff. However, it also states that
Xan NHS Foundation Trust will be expected to use these new freedoms in a way that fits with key NHS principles and does not undermine the ability of other providers in the local health economy to meet their NHS obligations."
In the real world, does that mean that NHS foundation trusts are free to recruit the staff that they want, or that they are not free to do so? The Secretary of State said in his last statement that they would not be able to poach staff from other NHS bodies. Who will define that? Who on earth will make that legally binding? Either they have the freedom to employ the staff that they want, or they have not.
How competitive will foundation trusts be? The national pricing structure will guarantee that NHS foundation trusts will be unable to undercut other NHS providers, according to paragraph 1.34. What is the point of giving them freedom to become more efficient if they are not able to lower their costs and thereby undercut other providers? What is the point of the entire exercise if we restrict what they can do, whom they can treat and the cost at which they can do that? The whole thing smacks of being made up as it goes along. It smacks of a panic response by the Government, who think that they must produce reform because the No. 10 policy unit is extremely unhappy with what the Department of Health is doing.
Sadly for the Secretary of State, it is the Chancellor who is slowing down the process. He is the one who put the restrictions on the regulator. He is the one who wanted long-term binding agreements to make sure that foundation trusts cannot operate in a way that is fundamentally different from the way in which the NHS currently operates. It reflects a fundamental split within the Government between those who believe that they must deliver at any cost and those who believe that the means of delivery is still one of the most important things in the Labour party's creed. That is the debate that will no doubt take place on the Government Benches today.
As I have said on many occasions—although the Secretary of State thinks that he and the Daily Mirror have an exclusive on this—the NHS as it is currently constructed and run is not working and will not work, irrespective of how much money is thrown at the system. The one question that needs to be answered is this: if the present NHS model is such a great model, why has it not been adopted by any other country in the world? The Government have at least been clear in laying out their prescription. Whether they can deliver it is another matter.
The Liberal Democrats have four hon. Members on their Benches and have not yet intervened in the debate. The House will be interested to know that in the Register of Members' Interests, Mr. Oaten tells us that the Liberal party literature in his constituency is sponsored by Denplan. That might explain why the Liberals have such an odd view of private medicine. However, the House would all agree that there is a logical link between the Liberals being sponsored by Denplan and the content of their literature. Most of that is designed for them to lie through their teeth, so I suppose it is only logical that they would want to look after them.
We in the House need to look at what has happened in other countries and where success has come from. I suggest that where there is a genuine mix of public and private provision and public and private finance, the record of health care is better than it is in this country. The Government may be moving towards more mixed provision in their current proposals, but as long as health care is provided irrespective of the ability to pay and free at the point of use, both of which the Conservative party supports, we need have no fear of diversity. Diversity provides innovation, and innovation provides excellence.
Foundation hospitals begin that process of diversity, the break-up of the monolith and the beginning of the end of a centralised national health service. No doubt the Secretary of State will dip liberally into the lexicon of the left when describing his policy today. That is no less than we would expect from a Minister in his position when facing the opposition of his own Back Benchers. However, his real test is not today. If he can keep his nerve and see his policy through without dilution, he just might begin to make a difference in the process of providing better health care in this country, and he would have the support of the Conservative party. It is a direction with which we are comfortable. If he knows what needs to be done, but he does not have the power within the Government or the courage to do so, the patients and the voters of this country will not be forgiving.
I beg to move, To leave out from XHouse" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
Xwelcomes the principle of NHS Foundation Trusts as part of the Government's wider programme to improve services for NHS patients;
believes that NHS Foundation Trusts must be part of the National Health Service providing care to NHS patients according to NHS principles and subject to NHS standards and inspection;
further believes that there should be no arbitrary cap on the numbers of NHS Foundation Trusts and that all NHS hospitals should get the help, support or intervention they need to improve;
recognises that extra resources for the health service are delivering improved services for NHS patients and have to be matched with reforms so that standards in the NHS are national but control is local;
supports the Government's efforts to devolve power to frontline services and to strengthen accountability to local communities;
and rejects any proposal to introduce top-up vouchers for private treatment, tax subsidies for private medical insurance or cuts in public spending of 20 per cent. in view of the inevitable impact that such policies would have on NHS patients including those treated in NHS Foundation Trusts."
The Government's programme of improvement for the health service, including our proposals for NHS foundation hospitals—
We have not quite got NHS foundation hospitals yet. I know that it is early in the new year, but the Opposition should give us a month or two. Our programme of improvement sets out how best we can get resources and reforms working in tandem to deliver better health care for patients. That is not why the Opposition called the debate today. They are not interested in supporting reform of the national health service, because the Conservatives, as Dr. Fox confirmed today, are no longer interested in keeping the national health service. That is why the hon. Gentleman, in his little secret speech to the Conservative party conference in Harrogate last year—at his fringe meeting, where he thought that no one was listening—set out the Conservative strategy, which he described as threefold. Its aims were to persuade the public, first, that the NHS is not working; secondly, that it has never worked before; and thirdly, that it will never work. That strategy is not his alone, but that of the whole Conservative party. Presumably, that is why, according to the
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition does not have to ask us to search out such cases, because the people affected come to our constituency surgeries every week. They include the resident in my constituency who had to wait 26 weeks for radiotherapy following a mastectomy. There is also the fact that everyone in my constituency who wants to get on to an NHS dental list has to travel to the mainland, despite the promises made by the Prime Minister to the Labour party conference in 1999 that within two years everyone would be able to get a dentist. While the Secretary of State is throwing so much money at the health service, why is he still making promises that he cannot deliver?
I should like to make two points in response to the hon. Gentleman. First, I understand his concerns about his constituents, which are shared in all parts of the House. Of course, there are many problems today in the national health service. That is absolutely true. Indeed, when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced the NHS plan from the Dispatch Box, there was much criticism and some mirth about the fact that it was a 10-year plan. It was a 10-year plan because it will take 10 years to put right the national health service and we should be candid and honest about that. There are problems in the national health service, but progress is under way, and he would do well to acknowledge the progress that has been made, not least because it has been brought about by hard-working members of staff not only in his area, but in all parts of the country.
Secondly, if the hon. Gentleman genuinely believes that there are problems in the national health service, perhaps he could explain to his constituents why he believes that cutting public spending on it would improve matters. Conservative Members must be the only people in the country who think that they can get more out of the national health service by putting less in.
I will tell my hon. Friend, the hon. Gentleman and the House, as will my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, until they are sick and tired of hearing it, that public spending cuts cannot deliver public service improvement. We had 18 years of cuts in the national health service and five years between 1992 and 1997 in which capital spending on its buildings and equipment was cut every year, not only in cash terms, but in real terms. Why do we have today the biggest hospital-building programme that the national health service has ever seen? It is there for a simple reason: we have made the PFI work and we are putting extra investment into the NHS.
The right hon. Gentleman spoke about the use of individual cases to attack the NHS. He will accept that Opposition parties will do that, as his party did very effectively when it was in opposition to show that the NHS was not working. Are not two issues important in that context? First, there should be clear knowledge that the consent of the patient who is cited has been sought. Secondly, it must be recognised that individual patients' experiences tell us nothing much even about the hospital in question, let alone much about the health service. We rely on the provision of adequate statistics in which we can have faith. I hope that he will address the concerns expressed by the National Audit Office and others that statistics are systematically falsified in an attempt to meet his targets.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman's points about individual cases. I think that both his party and mine responded positively to the British Medical Association's invitation last year, following the Rose Addis case, that we exercise some discretion in relation to such individual cases. I am not sure that that is true of the Conservative party, but if the hon. Member for Woodspring wishes to confirm from the Dispatch Box that he is prepared to exercise such discretion, I am sure that the BMA would, like me, be delighted to hear him do so.
On statistics, it is obviously important that there is integrity in the collection and presentation of figures. We have done much in that regard. For example, there is more open publication of information about NHS performance than ever before. That includes information about the individual performance of hospitals, primary care trusts and GPs' surgeries and better assessment than ever before of how performance is improving or changing across the national health service. To ensure that that is possible, we have introduced independent inspection through the Commission for Health Improvement, and we hope to strengthen that through the new Commission for Health Care Audit and Inspection. I do not think that it is reasonable to say that we have somehow not introduced precisely the safeguards for which the hon. Gentleman asks.
My right hon. Friend may have read over Christmas an article by the Leader of the Opposition in which he said that the Conservative party's aim was to make it completely irrelevant whether a hospital was publicly or privately owned. Does he agree that that might go some way towards explaining why Mr. Bercow has described the Conservative party's chances of winning the next election as about high as those of finding an Eskimo in the desert?
To get back to reality for a moment, if the Secretary of State needs to answer any question today, it is as follows. The Labour party has now been in office for six years. Health spending has risen by more than 20 per cent. in the past two years. The Prime Minister says that health care is about hospitals, which are the priority. How can it be that a 21.5 per cent. increase in funding in the health service has been translated in the hospital service into an increase in activity of only 1.6 per cent., as measured by the standard measure of finished consultant episodes, and that the number of admissions fell last year? How can those things be?
That is simply not true—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends give me a moment or two, I shall explain why. He is citing hospital episode statistics or HES figures, which count certain forms of activity, but not all. They include elective activity, but they do not count, for example, the procedures carried out nowadays with out-patients or primary care that used to be carried out with in-patients.
I know that the continual refrain from the hon. Gentleman and Opposition Members, for self-evident reasons, is that money never works or never gets to the right place in the national health service, so investment simply is not worthwhile. We know why they say that—they must justify their 20 per cent. programme of public spending cuts. However, I ask them to tell that to the 250 million patients being seen in primary care each year, more than 80 per cent. of whom now get appointments within two days, although many used to have to wait for weeks. They should tell it to the extra 750,000 people who get hospital operations each year, the 500,000 cancer patients who are now being seen within two weeks, although many used to have to wait months to see a hospital specialist, or the 30,000 cancer patients who are now eligible for the best and latest cancer drugs while there used to be a lottery in care in cancer drug treatment. Perhaps most importantly, they should tell it to the patients who are waiting for a heart operation and will, by April this year, have seen maximum waiting times halve from 18 months—the position that we inherited from his Government—to nine months, which is the position that will be reached in a few months.
How on earth does the hon. Gentleman think that those improvements have happened? Does he think that they have happened through the invisible hand of the free market, to which he and his hon. Friends are so deeply attached? They have happened not through the free market, but precisely because of the extra resources that the Government voted for and the Opposition voted against.
It is puzzling to hear claims from the Opposition that hospital treatment is not improving when I can tell my right hon. Friend that in the Dartford and Gravesham NHS trust, the Darent Valley hospital has just been awarded a diagnostic and treatment centre worth #9 million and there is expansion in the A and E department. The chief executive wrote to me this week to say that the trust had hit every single target that the Government had set and that it was very proud of the achievements that it had managed to produce. How can that square with the Opposition's claim that hospital treatment is failing?
Because the Opposition have a story to tell. The story that they want to tell is that investment never works, that the public services can never deliver, and that it is not worth putting extra investment and resources into, or reforming, the national health service. The hon. Member for Woodspring was candid enough to admit in his speech that he does not believe that the NHS has ever worked or can ever work. The Conservatives therefore have to justify their attacks on the NHS and their policy, as set out by the Leader of the Opposition, of a 20 per cent. cut in public spending, not just in the other public services but in the national health service, too.
I would like to clarify for the House what I said before, because the Secretary of State will otherwise be misleading us in his interpretation of it. I said that the way that the NHS is currently constructed and run is not working and could not work. That is absolutely true and it is why the Prime Minister is demanding reform. In its current form, the system will result in money being sucked in and nothing coming out the other side.
That is not what the hon. Gentleman said to the Conservative party conference, unless the Daily Mirror is wrong. I have not yet seen a letter of objection from the hon. Gentleman in the letters column of that newspaper. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asks whether it has a letters column; he should do a bit more reading. It would be good for his soul and get a bit of breadth into his life. He told the Conservative party conference—this was faithfully reproduced by the Daily Mirror—that his strategy was to persuade the public that the NHS is not working and has never worked before. That is the policy of today's Conservative party.
The Minister has said that the NHS is working, but does he not realise that there are some extraordinary absurdities in the way in which funds are currently allocated? The King Edward VII hospital in my constituency is facing closure because primary care trusts are unable to fund the operations and the work that has been carried out there. Is the Secretary of State aware that many people in my constituency are being sent abroad for orthopaedic treatment when they could perfectly well be treated up the road at King Edward VII? They cannot be treated there because of the absurd budgetary arrangements operating in the NHS today.
As I have said to the hon. Gentleman when he has raised this issue with me privately, I shall be very happy to look into it. He has written to me about it today, and I have his letter with me. I shall respond as soon as I can. I would, however, sound a note of caution. If he believes, as he does, that his local private hospital needs extra resources from the local primary care trust to secure its future and better to secure services for NHS patients—I accept that there will be a relationship between those two equations—he has to be able to answer one difficult but important question. Does he believe that the extra investment that the Labour party voted for and that his party voted against is necessary—yes or no? I know that when he had the opportunity to answer that question, he voted against the extra resources.
Will the Secretary of State answer one specific question? I am sure that he will agree that the hospice movement is a vital and excellent part of health care in this country. Will he tell me whether it is sensible for four beds in a 15-bed hospice in my constituency—the East Cheshire hospice—to be closed because it cannot fund the staff to man them, when there is a growing need for remedial and other care in hospices? Are the foundation hospitals going to be able to enter into contracts with hospices to enable them to run efficiently, and to provide the beds that are desperately needed?
On the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, that will be a matter for the NHS foundation hospital to determine. It will be determined locally, not nationally. The hon. Member for Woodspring has been urging me to see that as the right way forward. On the hospice movement and palliative care services more generally, I want to associate myself absolutely with the remarks of Sir Nicholas Winterton. Hospices do a sterling job, which is why the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend Ms Blears, who has responsibility for public health, has announced extra resources over the last few weeks specifically for palliative care services, including for hospices not only in the hon. Gentleman's constituency but in constituencies up and down the country.
I have no doubt that the extra investment in the NHS is needed or that it is having a significant impact in my constituency. We have NHS dentistry back in Swindon, and we have a walk-in centre, a new hospital, and much more besides. The Opposition are wrong to suggest that 20 per cent. extra money should produce 20 per cent. more activity. If we are going to make up for the supposed efficiency improvements that were in fact cuts after cuts in the Tory years, and if we want to relieve the huge pressure on staff, we need money without a corresponding increase in patient care. This debate is about foundation hospitals, however—
Order. The hon. Lady has not asked a question. She must now stop.
I agree with that part of what my hon. Friend was saying. I am not sure that I would have agreed with the second part, but there we are.
I want to set out, as the Government amendment does, how our proposals for NHS foundation trusts fit into the wider programme of NHS improvement and reform. Today the national health service is the fastest-growing health service of any major country in Europe. Six years ago, under the Conservatives, NHS budgets were falling in real terms. By 2008, they will have doubled in real terms. That is the difference between a Labour party committed to a policy of investment in the health service and a Conservative party committed to a policy of cuts in the health service—a policy that would lead not to reform in the NHS but only to its abandonment.
In a world in which health care can do more, but costs more, than ever before, it is an enormous source of strength for our country that we have an NHS based on the right values, namely of health care that is free at the point of use, because none of us knows when we will get ill, how long it will last or what it will cost. There has never been a time when these NHS values have been more relevant. Today's world of medical advances and technological changes occurring almost by the week positively calls for health care based on the scale of a patient's need, not the size of their wallet. And yet, for all its great strengths—most notably its staff and their ethos of public service—the NHS has major weaknesses too.
For more than 50 years, uniformity in health provision has not guaranteed equality of outcome. Indeed, it is sad to say that, over those 50 years, health inequalities have widened rather than narrowed. Most hon. Members know from their own constituency experience that, too often, the poorest services are in the poorest communities. Top-down Whitehall control has tended to stifle local innovation. It has too often ignored the differing needs of different local communities. It is not surprising, therefore, that staff sometimes feel disempowered, local communities are disengaged, and patients have traditionally had little say and precious little choice. Our reform programme—indeed, any reform programme—for the health service should be about addressing these weaknesses so that we can build on the NHS's great strengths.
The idea that the Conservatives support our reform programme is laughable. They are against national standards, even though equity in health care demands precisely those national standards of care. I am proud to have served in a Government who have, for the first time, established national standards of care to tackle the country's big killers—cancer and heart disease. As a consequence, in the last few years, death rates from cancer have fallen by 6 per cent. and from heart disease by 14 per cent.
So, national standards make a difference. That is also why we have targets to reduce waiting times, and why there is more open publication of information about NHS performance, as I mentioned to Dr. Harris. That is also why we have introduced independent inspection to guarantee those standards. We reject the internal market idea that NHS hospitals should simply be left to sink or swim as part of a free-market competitive environment. Every hospital—every part of the national health service—needs help, support and, where necessary, intervention to raise standards, whether it is the best performing hospital or the worst.
However, all the national standards and national systems of inspection in the world cannot by themselves deliver improvements. Sustained improvements in local services can happen only when staff feel involved, when local communities are better engaged, and when improvement is something done by local people, not just done to them. That is why devolution is at the heart of the Government's reform programme, and why the new primary care trusts are so important. PCTs are about shifting the balance of power in the health service so that, while standards are national, control is increasingly local. That is why we are now seeking to reconnect local hospitals to the local communities that they serve.
I welcome what the Government have done on NHS funding, but there is still a problem as between primary care trusts and the hospice movement. For example, Derian House children's hospice works very broadly—way beyond the north-west—yet there is no contribution from primary care trusts, so the hospice is the poor relation when it comes to funding. What help and support can my right hon. Friend give to ensure that the hospice movement gets its fair share of money and that we in Chorley do not suffer?
My hon. Friend makes an important point, not just for his local hospice, which I know he is passionately committed to, but for hospices in many constituencies up and down the country that are in a similar position. As he knows, a hospice often serves not just one constituency or area, but a broader region, and it may also specialise nationally in particular conditions.
My hon. Friend is right to say that there is a fault line in the system whereby a hospice runs the risk of losing out if decisions are left to local PCTs. That is why one of the proposals that we are taking forward through the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, who has responsibility for public health, aims to ensure that there is a national partnership group involving the national hospice associations precisely to address such problems. I hope that that benefits not just the constituents of my hon. Friend Mr. Hoyle, but the hospice movement nationally.
I want to set out the facts on NHS foundation trusts. I also want to deal with some specific issues raised today by the hon. Member for Woodspring, as well as issues that he raised in response to my statement to the House on
No, the hon. Gentleman will get a chance in a moment or two.
Indeed, the comments made on
As the hon. Gentleman seemed to indicate on
The hon. Gentleman may want NHS hospitals to be privatised. We want them to remain in public ownership. Indeed, part of the purpose of our NHS foundation trust policy is to usher in a new era of public ownership in which local communities control and own their local hospitals. The legal owners, who will elect the hospital governors of those NHS foundation trusts, will be local people, local members of staff and those representing key local organisations such as the PCTs. So in place of central state ownership there will be genuine local public ownership. That is no more a Tory policy for the health service than the minimum wage is a Tory policy on low pay; nor, indeed, is the Tory party the party of the vulnerable. To paraphrase the hon. Member for Buckingham on the Tories' electoral prospects, that is as believable as finding Eskimos in the desert.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way, although his badinage is a little more downmarket than I had confidently anticipated. It might add to the gaiety of the nation, but it does not improve the quality of his argument. May I put a simple proposition to him? Given that there has been a 28 per cent. real-terms increase in health expenditure in Scotland since 1997, but that that increase has been accompanied by a 25 per cent. rise in average waiting times, does he not recognise that it is grossly complacent of him to delay for two years the introduction of the new audit and inspection arrangements following the announcement of the money for which we need to know we are getting decent value?
I always listen extremely carefully to what the hon. Gentleman says, and I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition does too. I know that they have a warm and meaningful relationship, or at least they used to until very recently.
To answer the hon. Gentleman's points, we shall introduce legislation as soon as we are able to establish the new health care audit and inspection commission. I hope that he feels able to support the establishment of that new Commission for Health Improvement, because it will be an important safeguard to enable members of the public and members of staff working in the NHS to know how well local health services are performing.
On the hon. Gentleman's point about investment, he frequently hears from me and from the Prime Minister that investment must be accompanied by reforms. If we are to get the best value from the money, we have to have both. The problem for him and his party is that he wants only one of those. He talks about reform, but he is not terribly interested in investment.
The hon. Gentleman may be, but the problem for him is Opposition Front Benchers and, in particular, the Opposition leadership. This is a Labour policy steeped in Labour traditions of mutualism, community empowerment and the history—[Interruption.] As far as I am aware as a former student of history, those were never closely associated with the Conservative party, either in the last century or in this. The policy is steeped in the history of co-operation that gave birth first to the Labour party and then to our proudest creation, the national health service.
No. Putting staff and public in charge of those NHS hospitals will give them the freedom to innovate and develop services better suited to the needs of different local communities. NHS foundation trusts will be free from Whitehall direction and control so that we can genuinely unleash the spirit of public service enterprise, which so many NHS staff share. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Woodspring asked a series of specific questions, which I am going to answer. Those hospitals will be free to borrow, either from the public sector or from the private.
On those hospitals borrowing against their assets and our discussions with private sector lending organisations, we do not believe that it would be right to allow borrowing against assets, as they are needed to continue to provide NHS services to the local community and to local patients in all circumstances. Indeed, an important point is made by the private sector: it is not sure, either, that they would necessarily want to borrow against those assets. The borrowing will be against the revenue streams that NHS foundation trusts earn if they successfully negotiate agreements with local PCTs.
On classification, I have not had a discussion with the Office for National Statistics, nor would it be appropriate for me to do so. I do not make decisions on public or private sector classification, nor does any Cabinet Minister or any other Minister. The ONS is properly independent; the decision is for the ONS to take.
I am running through the questions that the hon. Gentleman raised. He asked the questions; I am giving him the answers. [Interruption.] I may not be giving the hon. Gentleman the answers that he wants, but I am giving the answers that I want to give.
These hospitals will be free to retain any surpluses and any proceeds from the more efficient use of their assets where that is for the benefit of NHS patients. They will have freedom to recruit and employ their own staff. However, as I told the House on
Those hospitals will be bound by a statutory duty of partnership to work in concert with other local NHS organisations. The proportion of private patient work undertaken by any NHS foundation trust will be strictly capped to its existing level. They will not be able to compete for patients by undercutting other NHS hospitals. Also, to prevent any demutualisation or any future Government's seeking privatisation, there will be a legal lock on the assets of NHS foundation trusts and on the purpose for which they can be used.
In concentrating on his speech, my right hon. Friend has obviously not noticed the eloquent facial expressions of Dr. Fox. Every time the values and principles of the NHS are mentioned by my right hon. Friend, the hon. Gentleman pulls a face. That shows the difference—the Opposition do not understand the values and principles of the national health service.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was about to say that perhaps I am not sorry to hear of the hon. Gentleman's pain, but as it is early in the new year I shall be generous and say that I am very sorry to hear that he is in some pain.
So I say to my hon. Friends: do not be fooled by the hon. Gentleman's argument that NHS foundation trusts further the Tories' agenda—
If my right hon. Friend's aim in setting up foundation trusts is to give more power back to the local community, why are we not creating a system in which everyone on the electoral register in the locality is automatically a member of the foundation trust? Why is there an opt-in provision? Who will the electorate be for a regional hospital like Christie hospital, or Walton hospital's neurosurgery unit?
My hon. Friend makes two very important points. First, automatic entitlement on the basis of the electoral register is an option in terms of becoming a member of an NHS foundation trust. Since people need to demonstrate positive involvement with their national health service, my own preference is that they apply for membership. However, there are two different, although not necessarily competing, ways of doing that, and to tell the truth I have a relatively open mind on the issue.
On the second point about membership that my hon. Friend raises, as we tried to explain in the guide published on
I wonder whether the Secretary of State can help me. I am struggling with his concept of an opt-in electorate for foundation hospital boards. His party is always railing against the sharp elbow of the middle classes. How on earth does he expect an opt-in electorate to work? Surely that will increase the power of a small part of the electorate, rather than giving a broad spread of influence to the people whom I think he is trying to help.
Frankly, that is absolute and patronising nonsense of the highest order, and it speaks volumes about the perspective of the hon. Gentleman and his party. Some people managed to join even the Conservative party, so I have heard, and people certainly managed to join the Labour party. If people are passionately committed to an organisation, they tend to want to join it. That is the tradition of mutualism and co-operation that underpins NHS foundation trusts, and it is a perfectly good principle.
So I say to those of my hon. Friends who are concerned about this issue: do not be fooled by the argument of the hon. Member for Woodspring that foundation trusts somehow advance the Tories' agenda, because the reverse is the case. Their agenda is self-evident: to make patients pay in a privatised system of care, and to pass NHS hospitals out of public ownership and into private ownership.
NHS foundation trusts would frustrate both of those Tory ambitions. Any future Conservative Government would not only have to pass an Act of Parliament to dismantle the NHS; they would have to legislate to take away direct ownership from the local communities in which it has been vested. NHS foundation trusts are a means not of weakening public ownership, but of strengthening it.
The hon. Gentleman now says that all hospitals should become foundation hospitals, and in time that may be a laudable enough ambition, but today, as he well knows, NHS trusts have very different starting points. Some would benefit from more freedom, and others from more support; frankly, a few need more central intervention.
As we set out in the NHS plan, the more performance improves among local health services, the more autonomy will be earned. That is why we plan that the first round of NHS foundation hospitals will be drawn from trusts that are rated Xthree star" next summer. As more NHS trusts improve, more will be eligible to gain foundation status. There will be no arbitrary cap on the number of NHS foundation trusts.
Over time, NHS foundation trust status will become the norm for many—perhaps most—hospitals in the national health service. These are radical reforms and it is right they be taken step by step.
No, I want to make progress and wind up, because I know that other hon. Members want to get in. It would be folly to believe that reforms can be delivered without resources, and it is self-evident that the NHS needs both. No party can claim with credibility as a reformer of public services if it is not also an investor in public services. The problem for the Liberal Democrat party is that it wants the investment but does not want the reform. The problem for the Conservative party is that it says that it wants reform, but it will not commit to investment. In fact, it is becoming increasingly clear that today's Conservative party appears hellbent not on reform of the health service, but on its wholesale abandonment. What other interpretation can be placed on its twists and turns on tax and spending during the Christmas period?
On the first day of this Tory turmoil—the morning of
Xlooking at the target of 20 per cent. savings across the board", including, therefore, in health and education.
The hon. Member for Woodspring has the nerve to stand at the Disptach Box and talk about policy debates within the Government. There were more episodes of this Tory soap opera over the Christmas holidays than there were of XEastEnders". So where exactly does the hon. Gentleman stand? Does he back the 20 per cent. cuts or not? He is prepared to welcome Labour policy on foundation hospitals, but is he prepared to welcome the Conservative policy of 20 per cent. cuts in all NHS hospitals?
The Conservatives must be the only people in the country who believe that the best way to get more out of the health service is to put less into it. So this Xchanged" and Xmodernised" Conservative party—the self-proclaimed caring, sharing party of the vulnerable—offers us nothing but the oldest Tory policy in the book: cut back on public services, force more people to pay privately, provide tax perks for those who need them least, and offer poorer public services for those that need them most. The way forward for the NHS is a programme of investment and reform: high and sustained investment, and bold and radical reform. The Conservatives' programme is cutback and closure, Labour's is investment plus reform. It is our programme that will deliver improvement in the NHS.
The internal Government memo leaked to the Financial Times said that there was an Ximmense risk" that the Government's NHS investment might be squandered. It said that the Department had to do more, that there has not been enough forethought and planning, that there is weakness in the primary care trusts and strategic health authorities set up by the Secretary of State, that the Department needs to get the right people into the right jobs faster—perhaps chilling words for the right hon. Gentleman—and that the Department was understaffed. Downing street has apparently responded saying that that was a sign of the Department's strength. That is a bizarre interpretation of the Department's criticism of itself.
There is no doubt that the NHS needs reform. The Secretary of State has an endearing way of saying that everyone with whom he disagrees is stupid and also that he is the way and the light, so that the only path to reform is through him. He is probably wrong on the former count, and certainly wrong on the latter. The Liberal Democrats have a specific programme of reform. The last time we debated these matters I invited the right hon. Gentleman to read up on the policy. I know that he is a busy man, and he may not be very interested, but he should not say that my party has no reform proposals until he has made the effort to read about them. No doubt he will want to criticise them, but ours is the only party with a clear and rational approach to delivering an accountable and efficient NHS. We want national targets to be abolished and funding, purchasing and strategic decision making to be radically decentralised to the regions and to local NHS bodies that are democratically accountable to people on normal local electoral rolls.
I am talking about the commissioning side, which is where the power lies. We need democratically accountable decision making and commissioning, delivered through democratically elected local and regional bodies. We believe that NHS funding should be guaranteed through an earmarked NHS contribution that would replace national insurance contributions. The Secretary of State may disagree with those reform proposals, but he should not say that they do not exist.
In a moment, as I am coming to a matter on which the hon. Gentleman may want to respond.
My party has also proposed that there should be a diversity of providers. I can assure Dr. Fox that we do not describe as privatisation his calls for a diversity of providers of NHS services. It is not who provides the service that matters, but who pays for it. Equity is delivered best when a service is free at the point of delivery, but the Conservatives are going wrong in two respects. They have called for more self pay, and even for subsidy for more self pay, but that would mean that people with few resources who rely wholly on the NHS having to subsidise people who are well off or people who have at least some resources that they could put towards private health care.
If the better off are to be subsidised by resources that could be used for the least well-off, as the Conservatives propose, that would not be equitable. That is why we are worried about the creeping privatisation of the NHS that the Conservatives have proposed.
The hon. Member for Woodspring also demonstrated his failure to understand equity and health inequality in the way that he described health funding in Scotland. He has said consistently that he supports an increased focus on public health, but that assertion is preposterous unless he accepts that some areas of the country suffer from greater health need and inequality than others. That requires differential funding. The claim that Scotland and Wales receive more funding as a proportion of national wealth than France yet achieve worse outcomes is not reasonable.
Scotland and Wales should properly be compared with the least well-off areas of Frances that have the greatest health need. Every country has pockets of deprivation that have greater health needs and require more resources. In addition, there is always a time lag between making resources available and achieving results. That is why the improvements in cancer survival are due less to the efforts and best intentions of the Government than to changes in lifestyle instigated many years ago. Some of those changes even began under a Conservative Government.
I accept that there is always a time gap between investment or change and the outcomes that might be achieved. We have a problem with the standardised methodology for determining outcomes, but my point was that it says something about the process when there is a huge increase in expenditure and also an increase in waiting lists and times. The hon. Gentleman said that his party's policy was to introduce a hypothecated health tax. Which tax would he like to have hypothecated, or would he like a new tax to be levied? If the latter, which tax would that replace? Would it be set at a level that would provide higher or lower funding than the Government are providing at present, according to their own estimates?
That is a fair question, and I am grateful for the chance to respond briefly in what is a Conservative Opposition day debate. We propose that existing national insurance contributions should be earmarked for the health service, and that the funding from general taxation currently used for the health service would cover what is currently paid for by national insurance contributions. The proposed levels are in line with current Government spending proposals. If the NHS needs more resources for specific matters, our next election manifesto will describe how they will be made available. In addition, we propose that the national health contribution could vary according to region. People in each region could vote democratically to raise or lower that contribution. Moreover, our proposed system of local income taxation would be fairer than the council tax system and be more directly related to people's ability to pay. It would mean that the health and social care budgets, which we would merge at local level, could be increased—or, conceivably, decreased—through local demand at the ballot box.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way a second time. The problem with national insurance is that one of the largest NHS user groups is made up of pensioners, who do not pay national insurance. Would he extend the new tax to pensioners?
The proposal is to modify existing taxation. Pensioners do not pay national insurance contributions, and they would not pay the proposed national health contribution. We do not believe that the people who use the health service should necessarily be the ones who have to pay for it. The Conservative party's psychology is that only those who use the NHS must pay for it sooner or later, directly or indirectly. It is a sign of civilisation that people who are better off should pay more, proportionately, even if they use the NHS less.
No, I want to make progress.
The problem with the Government's funding measures is one of delay, not with their global level overall. The Government must accept that they could have reached the targets set for five years into their 10-year plan if they had put the significantly increased resources that they are now putting in five years ago. They made the political decision not to tax better-off people more and to let patients wait longer. The elderly have been left to suffer and to linger in hospital beds when that was not necessary. Those patients have paid the price, as has today's health service. A huge amount of resources has been wasted on false economies. For example, agency nurses are paid three times over the odds to bring then back into a health service that they have left. Also, elderly people are kept unnecessarily in hospital beds. That is bad for their health and prevents other people from using the beds. Resources are wasted in many other ways, because the NHS has not been resourced properly.
Earlier, the hon. Member for Woodspring teased me about Denplan. It is a fair point, although he may have taken an opportunity to give that organisation a free advert, as I understand that it is partially based in his constituency. Clearly, that was only a malicious rumour, but he must understand that the Liberal Democrat party is not against private companies. We favour the free market and private enterprise, but we oppose private companies and private provision being supported at the expense of people who are not able to use them. We agree that people who can afford it should have the right to use private health care—and private education—but that right should not come at the expense of people who are less well off. That is the problem with the way the previous Conservative Government eroded NHS dental care. It led to the growth of private dental plans and dental insurance that the poorest people in our society could never afford.
I have a series of questions about foundation hospitals for the Government. Many of these were rehearsed in an excellent debate secured by Ms Drown yesterday in Westminster Hall. I hope that we have an opportunity to hear more from her today.
One of our concerns is that the Government seem to believe that a financial incentive will motivate the NHS to do more. They seem to think that nurses and doctors enter their training and careers, with the long hours involved, in the belief that if their hospital were offered more cash prizes, they would work harder. That simply is not the case, and the right hon. Gentleman and the Government fundamentally misunderstand, in a counter-productive way, the motivation of people who work in the NHS and in public services generally. There is a series of paragraphs in his prospectus about cash payments by results. Bidding for cash prizes is another of his gimmicky policies. Not only does that simply smear the money around in a different way, it undermines morale in the health service. Its workers do not want to chase cash; they want to treat people on the basis of clinical priority.
The right hon. Gentleman talked about the supposed freedom of foundation hospitals, but that freedom is only for the few, not the many. Why should not such freedom—if it exists, and it certainly should not exist on the model of the foundation hospitals—be available to all?
The right hon. Gentleman chooses the lucky few to have what he considers to be this worthy status on the basis of the star rating system. It is hard to think of a worse basis upon which to choose—he would do better drawing lots. Those in the health service recognise that star ratings merely measure the ability of the NHS trust to jump through Government hoops, not their ability to treat patients well.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that St. Helier hospital, in the constituency of Mr. Brake obtained no stars in the first star rating? That was of great benefit to my constituents as, for the first time in years, it was acknowledged that their local hospital was not up to standard and needed to be improved. It was not a question of jumping through hoops but of nobody being able to get that point through to the people who ran the trust at the time.
If the hon. Lady looks at the history of the trust, she will see that it was subject to several ratings—the Government's flawed star rating system, which means very little, and, more worth while, a Commission for Health Improvement report which identified significant failures. Unfortunately, the Secretary of State is like a man with three watches. The Dr. Foster performance tables say one thing, the Commission for Health Improvement will say another, while the star rating systems will give an entirely different view. In the midlands and the London area, different ratings have been provided by each mechanism. The correct one, according to the right hon. Gentleman, takes away as much blame as possible from himself and directs it towards the trust.
I would choose the Commission for Health Improvement's in-depth studies. [Interruption.] However, unfortunately, the Secretary of State has subverted the commission's studies by forcing it to inspect against his star rating system so even when he had a quality programme of inspection in which the health service could have confidence, he subverted it because of political priorities. The Commission for Health Improvement and the people who work in the health service recognise that as long as they are inspected against his political targets, standards are not being properly measured.
The Oxford Radcliffe NHS trust, which services my area, does not have worse doctors and nurses or poorer outcomes than anywhere else, but it did not achieve any stars. This was specifically because it was unable to admit patients as the local social services could not place people who were ready to leave and because some 120 beds were closed because of an inability to recruit nurses at the wages for which the Government are responsible. Simply to use the people working in the hospitals as a scapegoat misses the point.
Is the hon. Gentleman really suggesting that the people who carry out inspections are under political control? If so, could he give an example of where that has happened?
In the latest Bill—and, I suspect in the new Bill—the Commission for Health Improvement will be forced to inspect according to priorities and targets set by the Department of Health. The Secretary of State is not disagreeing with me. The targets will not be set according to public health indicators of general health outcomes—they will be ridiculous, such as the number of people waiting for procedures. That is a measure of activity and of the number of people using the service. It is not a measure of the amount of time that people wait, which is critical.
Furthermore, it is clear that foundation hospitals will not be free from Whitehall control. They will still be subject to Commission for Health Improvement inspections based on the targets and the star ratings. They should be inspected by the commission but should design their own rational, evidence-based and patient-centered outcomes rather than having to use the Government's politically centred and target-based outcomes.
Foundation hospitals will also be subject to performance management by commissioners. That is right and proper, but the commissioners are forced to measure the trust's performance against the Government's star rating targets.
The Secretary of State will have the power to remove foundation hospital status. That Damoclean sword hanging over the trusts gives the Secretary of State yet more power , so even when the right hon. Gentleman talks about freedom, he is not talking about genuine freedom. Why has he not talked about devolving and decentralising power to the commissioning side of the NHS? The real power in a service with a commissioning-providing split should be with the commissioning side. Yet, as the hon. Member for Woodspring said, the right hon. Gentleman has refused to give any responsibility other than handling money—not decision making—to the primary care trust. He has failed to provide any democratic accountability even of the sham kind that he is proposing for foundation hospitals to that side of the commissioning-providing split.
No, I would like to make progress, and the hon. Gentleman has had a go.
Is it right that foundation hospitals should be free to sell land—land that they have not bought but happen to have through serendipity, which really belongs to the entire NHS and therefore the public purse? Why should those foundation hospitals be given specific advantages to sell off land to use in their area?
The other inconsistency surrounds local pay. The Government said that there will be local pay flexibility but that there can and will be no poaching. How will that work? The Secretary of State has never given a satisfactory answer to me, Conservative Front Benchers or his own Back Benchers. Will people have to sign an affidavit when they change jobs for the perks that are available through local pay flexibility that they have not left another NHS employer or that if they have, they are not doing it for the purpose of benefiting from local pay flexibility?
I turn now to the good things about the Government's proposal—well, the good thing about the Government's proposal. [Interruption.] There is only one good thing about this proposal—the restriction on pay beds in these hospitals. The problem with pay beds in the NHS when NHS capacity is limited is that part of the capacity is thereby restricted solely to those who can afford to pay. There may be an argument when there is spare capacity for allowing people with resources to choose to have their private treatment in the NHS. It also helps to keep consultants in the NHS, if the Government are unable to get them to stick to their job plans. However, pay beds simply allow people to buy their way in ahead of the queue at the expense of those whose need is more urgent but who cannot afford to pay. Pay beds do not even bring in the extra resources that the Government claim they do.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the ability of foundation or other hospitals to treat private patients would generate revenue that could then be transferred to the treatment of additional national health service patients?
I have just said that that is not the case. When I asked a hospital in my area what proportion of its operations were given over to paying patients in its private wing, the answer was 20 per cent. I asked what the net income to the hospital was. It is very difficult to find that out from answers to parliamentary questions; if the Government are going to stick to a baseline, they have to publish it sooner rather than later. The hospital said that the net income to the hospital was 6 per cent. So it is sacrificing 20 per cent. of its NHS capacity for 6 per cent. of its income. That does not make sense, even in Conservativeland.
In the Barber memo, the Government state that a productivity improvement of about 15 per cent. is needed. Will the Secretary of State explain the difference between the 15 per cent. efficiency gain per pound spent, currently being demanded by Labour masters, and the efficiency gains that he decried when he was in opposition?
In conclusion, the Government seek, as new Labour always does, to have it both ways—to be all things to all people—[Interruption.] I am glad that Conservative Front-Bench Members agree.
On democratic accountability, the Government are choosing weird electorates, based on an opt-in process, instead of using existing democratically accountable local authorities or regional bodies. The Government claim to be devolving, but they are not offering true freedom—they are simply devolving the blame. They are giving new status to the provider side, but they are not decentralising decision making or giving freedom to the commissioning side. On flexibility, they say that, yes, there will be local pay, yet there will be no poaching.
On the one hand, the Government say that these new beasts will be free from Whitehall control while, on the other, they will still be subject to targets and star ratings through the CHI and commissioning performance management. The more that the Secretary of State describes his policy on foundation hospitals, the more muddled and inconsistent it becomes. In trying to please the right-wing free marketeers in 10 Downing street while appeasing Labour rebels loyal to 11 Downing street, the right hon. Gentleman is trying to have it both ways and will end up satisfying no one but himself—and he looks very satisfied.
The fundamental problem is that foundation hospitals are neither truly free nor locally accountable and that, to the extent that they have flexibility, they are divisive. In the light of the memo from Michael Barber expressing concern about the potential failure to deliver on health targets, we can see what a failure the policy on foundation hospitals is: flawed proposals, inadequately defended by a rattled and increasingly desperate Secretary of State.
As we debate this Tory motion, it is worth reminding the House that the national health service is by a long distance the most popular institution in the country. It is certainly at least twice as popular as the Tory party. Indeed, it is more popular at present than the Tory party ever was—even at the height of its popularity. That is why the Tories have two problems when they are talking about the NHS. First, most people do not believe what the Tories say and, secondly, most people remember their record.
For a start, the Tories opposed the establishment of the NHS. Then, because it proved so successful and popular, they could never dare make a frontal attack on it and resorted, over decades, to a policy of malign interference. The Tories left the national health service short of money, short of staff, short of beds and short of modern equipment. Almost the only thing the NHS was not short of under the Tories was reorganisation, reform and modernisation. The Tories delivered reorganisation to the health service by the bucketload: endless rounds of structural change that achieved little or nothing while consuming resources and distracting staff from the priority of treating patients.
That placed a huge burden on the staff. They became—and remain—sick to death of structural change for the sake of it. The whole country owes NHS staff a huge debt of gratitude, because the health service was kept alive during the Tory years only by the commitment of its staff, their dedication to the public service ethic and their resistance to the Tory introduction of competition.
Now, the Tories are at it again. Not content with a double whammy—as invented by a former chair of the Tory party—they have come up with a triple whammy. They want to cut NHS funding by 20 per cent. They want to go over to a funding system that is more expensive and less cost-effective than the present one and to break up the NHS in preparation for privatisation.
Where do the Tories' ideas come from? They say that we should imitate Europe. That really takes the biscuit. The most anti-European party of modern times, the knee-jerk Eurosceptics, are saying that we must imitate Europe. Apparently, they claim to have been on a European study tour. It is clear that rather more touring than studying went on, because they appear to have missed the fact that while they were in government investment in health care in Europe was far higher than it was in this country.
The Tories have also missed the fact that the level of tax in Britain is lower than it is in most European countries. Never mind that, they say. Spend less on the NHS, they say. British people pay too much tax, they say. Let us force the British people to pay tax and also take out private medical insurance, they say—and they say it as though private medical insurance came free. However, private medical insurance does not come free; it costs money. What people do not pay on the taxation swings, they have to pay on the private insurance roundabout.
The Tories have come up with a real gem of a popular policy for the British people: pay tax and top it up by paying for private health care—in other words, top-up fees for the NHS. What the Tories are talking about means more money being spent on the bureaucracy of insurance cover; an extra burden on business as firms feel obliged to pay insurance cover for their employees, thus eliminating one of our advantages as a centre of attraction for inward investment; and people's health cover being dependent on private insurers—presumably such as Equitable Life or Britannic Assurance.
On top of that, the Tories have seized on the idea for foundation hospitals because they see it as leading to the introduction of competition in the health service and the break-up of the NHS. They see the establishment of foundation hospitals as a big step down their road of privatisation.
That is no surprise, of course, because the Tories want to privatise the NHS. They stand for competition, elitism and privilege. They always have and they always will. However, what surprises and, indeed, saddens me is that it is our Labour Government who are proposing foundation hospitals—a system in which some hospitals will deliberately be given advantages over neighbouring ones, inevitably leading to a two-tier service.
Some of the articles and speeches in favour of foundation hospitals state that they represent traditional socialist values in a modern setting—not just new Labour but new socialism. Some of those articles note that the Tories will not oppose foundation hospitals, which has certainly been confirmed today. The House may call me old-fashioned, but it has never occurred to me that Tory support for an idea was a touchstone of its socialist nature.
I freely admit that part of my objection to foundation hospitals is ideological. That is one reason that my views are shared by most people in the Labour party and, of course, why they are not shared by the Tory party. However, most of my case against foundation hospitals—
No, not for a moment—partly because Wales is not yet threatened with foundation hospitals and my hon. Friend would be talking about theory while we are talking about something that may in practice damage our constituents.
No, I shall not give way.
Most of my case against foundation hospitals is not ideological but strictly practical. That is why that case is shared by most people working in the NHS and opposed by the Tories.
The starting point for any discussion of the future of the NHS must be the recognition that two decades of Tory failure to train enough doctors, nurses, midwives and therapists means that those skilled professionals will be in short supply for many years to come. That is unavoidable. For as long as that shortage exists, to give financial and other advantages to some hospitals can only be at the expense of neighbouring hospitals, because there is no surplus. For example, the chief executive of University College hospital in my constituency is desperate that it should become a foundation trust. If that comes about and the hospital can consequently offer better pay and working conditions, it will inevitably attract scarce staff from neighbouring hospitals that also serve my constituency—perhaps from the Royal Free, the Whittington, Barts or Great Ormond Street. The same will apply in every part of the country in which a foundation hospital is established. The best may get better as a result, but that can only be at the expense of the rest.
One of the unanswered questions put in the debate in Westminster Hall yesterday related to extra pay being given to foundation trust staff. Does my right hon. Friend think that it would be appropriate for all the neighbouring trusts to have to sign off any differences from the national pay structure to ensure that staff were not pinched by other trusts?
I must admit that that had not occurred to me, but it seems that that is very difficult territory. Let us suppose that University College hospital had a vacancy. I cannot see how, in employment law, someone who wanted to apply for that vacancy could be stopped from doing so, irrespective of whom they were working for. As to the effect of the pay deal, I will need to think about that.
There is a danger that the foundation hospitals will reintroduce competition into the national health service and set hospital against hospital. That is what we promised to get rid of, which we have done. It would not even be fair competition, however, as it would be a handicap race in which the least favoured horses carried the heaviest handicaps, which would be contrary to Jockey Club rules. That cannot be right, which is why I cannot support it.
Besides getting extra funding, the Secretary of State says rightly that foundation hospitals should be free from central direction and control, with fewer Government targets, less interference and less earmarking of extra funds. I agree with that, and I must plead guilty that some of that interference started when I was Secretary of State for Health. I was becoming a little dubious about some of that by the time I resigned, although I must say, from observation, that there has been rather more of it since. My point to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—he is my friend—is that interference and central direction is not just a burden for the best hospitals; it is a burden for all of them. The argument must therefore be to ease up on all of them, except for perhaps one or two desperate cases. Above all, we should try to let them get on with their job, give them a chance to settle down with the changes that have been made so far, and allow them to concentrate on dealing with patients.
The NHS needs change, but it does not need more structural change; it is sick to death of that. We need local, practical changes to help the clinical staff to do their job that include new and better ways of running clinics and dealing with out-patients; help in reducing cross-infections; relieving clinical staff of necessary clerical work, which the Tories forced on to them when they got rid of legions of clerks in the health service; reducing assaults on staff; and providing what the Tories singularly failed to provide—a modern IT system that serves the needs of patients and staff. Those are vital, local, long-term improvements. Greatly to his credit, my right hon. Friend is getting on with many of those things, and he and all his officials should be concentrating on that. He should ignore the anonymous advisers who have an obsession with continuous change. They are like a collection of Maoists driven by the concept of continuous revolution.
I thought that, too. Perhaps the Secretary of State knows more about Trotsky than I do, but I was told that it was Mao who devised that theory. Whoever is the source of that influence, it is out of place among Downing street advisers.
One of the problems with the constant effort towards change is that we are seeing doubts growing about the Government's overall intentions. Foundation hospitals are being linked in the minds of sensible people with the franchising-out of national health service hospitals that are in trouble, or the franchising-out of new diagnostic and treatment centres. That is beginning to look like ending the commitment to a national service and a move towards a mixed economy in health care, blurring what has up to now been a clear distinction between the Labour party and the Tories.
There is no logic in the Tories' position. They say that the present system is fundamentally wrong, but if the best hospitals are doing really well under the existing system, that shows that it is not fundamentally wrong, as it can produce first-rate performances. The Government apparently accept that, but they are saying that they will give new status to the successful while expecting the unsuccessful to catch up using the existing system. It seems to me, therefore, that the Government are placing even more faith in the existing system than anybody else has done hitherto. If they have faith in the existing system, surely we should stick to it.
Many of the problems that we face spring from the adherence to the concept of choice and diversity. There can only be a real choice for everybody if there is a surplus, but there is no surplus of staff or beds. Most patients are not looking for choice. As I have said before, someone who lives in Leicester wants one of the hospitals in Leicester to provide first-rate care; they do not want the choice of going to a foundation hospital in Nottingham.
No. I do not have much time, and I want to make progress.
In addition, the establishment of foundation hospitals will cause great trouble for general practitioners, who will be faced with patients who say, XI do not want to go to the local hospital, I want to go to the foundation hospital down the road." That will not be of overall benefit. I come back to the point that we ought to let people in the NHS get on with their jobs, and ignore the anonymous, Maoist—or Trotskyist—advisers at No. 10. They have not even learned the lessons of the waste of time and money when the Tories were in charge, and of constant, repeated reorganisation on top of reorganisation. They should learn lessons from the Tories, not repeat their mistakes.
I urge my right hon. Friend to carry on with the practical measures that he is introducing, which go right across the board in an effort to improve our health system, and to ignore the option of individualised, specialised treatment for a limited number of privileged hospitals. Whether he intends it or not, the latter option is bound to bring about a two-tier service, which will damage the national health service and blur the distinction between our party and its wonderful record on the health service and the Tories and their abominable record.
I hope that Mr. Dobson will not misunderstand me if I say that his speech had an air of familiarity about it. It is fair to say that he and I have exchanged arguments on similar subjects across the Floor of the House of Commons for more than decade; in truth, we have argued about exactly this policy for more than a decade. What has changed this afternoon is that the Secretary of State has swapped sides in the argument.
The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras has been as consistent as I have been; he has argued against the establishment of, first, NHS trusts and, now, foundation hospitals. I have argued, first, for the establishment of NHS trusts, and I shall go on to argue in support of the principle of foundation hospitals today. In doing so, I shall take the opportunity to welcome the Secretary of State as a turncoat from the arguments that have just been advanced by the former Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, to the arguments that were first advanced by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke when he was Secretary of State in 1989.
The reality is that the analysis that has led the Secretary of State to advance the policy of foundation hospitals is exactly the same as that which led my right hon. and learned Friend to advance essentially the same policy through the NHS reforms of 1990. The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras understands that, as does Mr. Hinchliffe, the Chairman of the Select Committee, who has made clear his opposition to the Secretary of State's policy. What is also clear, although the Secretary of State was less explicit about it this afternoon, is that he understands it.
When the right hon. Gentleman was speaking to a meeting of health service representatives on
The Secretary of State's critique of NHS trusts is that they are not sufficiently free from external centralised control. The system that we set up, which was freer from those controls than the system that went before, is now dismissed as a halfway house. I offer him the thought that the challenge that he should embrace is to show, when he has completed the delivery and implementation of his policy, not that trusts were a halfway house but that they were short of being a halfway house. Let him be more bold. Let him try to get more than double the distance away from the policy as it was before trusts were established.
In short, I agree with the Secretary of State's analysis, and I congratulate him on it, of one of the key problems on what we used to call the provider side of the NHS. It is that one of the major failings of the health service, pre-and post-trusts, is that the degree of central control stifles innovation and the efficient use of resources. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that that is true not only of big acute hospital trusts but of the whole delivery of health care within the NHS, including community trusts, mental health care and care for those with learning disabilities. We must not be seduced by the big-budget acute hospitals.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a huge amount of innovation throughout the health service, and that the biggest problem is identifying good innovation and getting other people to take it up?
I agree that there is a huge amount of innovation in the health service, but I share with the Secretary of State the ambition to see more innovation because I do not believe that the health service is changing fast enough to keep up with the opportunities that exist in the delivery of modern health care.
From his speeches, the Secretary of State seems to believe that we need a freer regime in the delivery of health care. He understands that that reflects European experience. The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras was dismissive of that, but it is an important, powerful argument that while almost all other west European countries accept, as we do, the objective of delivering health care on the basis of clinical need without regard to ability to pay, they are better at delivering that policy. The Secretary of State has noticed that and is trying to apply those lessons here. He has a long way to go, but he has started, and I welcome that.
Since the right hon. Gentleman is praying in aid Europe, does he agree that European systems have a much higher tax base and spend more money? Does he therefore agree with his Front-Bench colleagues who want to make a 20 per cent. cut in health spending?
I strongly agree with the proposition that every continental European system spends a larger share of national income on health care than we do. The part of the lesson that the Secretary of State, wherever he is—he has a national health service to run—has not yet learned is that European systems can teach us how to liberalise not only the provision of health care but the demand side of the service, so as to get more resources into health care.
My focus this afternoon is on those parts of the Government's policy on foundation hospitals with which I agree. The Secretary of State has learned from the European experience and from the basic principle that is evident in the management of large organisations the world over: the more that one delegates and gives people responsibility for the services that they deliver, the more innovation and efficient use of resources one gets.
The Secretary of State is also committing himself to the reform of the public sector that the Prime Minister described as one of the most difficult challenges that his Government faces. He said, and this must have been two years ago, that his back already bore the scars inflicted by the opponents of public sector reform. One result of the Secretary of State's policy is that the Prime Minister can now at least see who his enemies are—the enemies of public sector reform. They are the 109 Labour MPs who do not accept the logic of the Government's policy.
Those Members are a small minority in the rest of the community, because for most people who are interested in the delivery of health care in this country and the rest of the world, the arguments that the Secretary of State has now accepted have been a commonplace for well over a decade. However, there are still 109 Labour MPs who do not accept them. The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras and the hon. Member for Wakefield have already made clear their opposition, and we are led to believe that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not persuaded by those arguments. The Prime Minister can now at least know who his enemies are—those to whom he referred as having already inflicted scars on his back.
Moving from the broad strategy to the detail, because the devil is in the detail of this policy, I want to focus on what I believe is the key question that will determine whether the Secretary of State's logic for greater devolution and greater freedoms for NHS foundation trusts will be carried through in practice. The key question at the heart of the policy is whether what we will be asked to introduce is, in the end, simply a different way of running state hospitals or whether it is a genuine commitment to introduce a new type of institution.
The Secretary of State's speech last May, to which I have already referred, is ambiguous on that subject. He said:
XIn particular there has been a growing interest in recent years in developing the concept of a public interest company—a middle ground within public services between state-run public and shareholder-led private structures."
How far down the road to a genuinely new type of institution are the Government prepared to go? I strongly believe that the Government need to be bold and to go as far as possible. That is the test that will need to be applied to the legislation when it is published.
The accountability for the new foundation hospitals has to be seen to operate through the commissioning process and to apply to people who are close to the patient, rather than through the bureaucracy and the command and control system inherited from the old health service. Ministers have to ask themselves, and they must have a crystal-clear answer, what is the core activity of the NHS. I am very clear about what I believe it ought to be. It ought to be the delivery to patients of care on the basis of clinical need. The NHS ought to be a commissioning-led service. Frankly, the management of hospitals and of the delivery of health care, including community-based care, is a secondary consideration. If the NHS is to deliver its promise of equitable access to health care, it is the commissioning and the provision of access that is key, not the management of hospitals. That is why hospital management needs to be seen to be freer from the command and control system.
It is still totally unclear where the balance of this argument will ultimately come to lie. The Government's latest publication on the issue was published in December and is entitled XA Guide to NHS Foundation Trusts", and it says that four clear principles will be set out in legislation. I strongly agree with the principles that there should be
Xa primary purpose of providing health and related services for the benefit of NHS patients and the community" and that the foundation trusts should
Xact in accordance with NHS values."
Other activities should be limited
Xto those that are conducive to and not detrimental to achievement of the primary purpose", and we should ensure that
Xassets, and any surpluses an NHS Foundation Trust makes, are applied solely to the primary purpose."
Those are four good, strong simple principles with which I strongly agree.
However, we must understand how the balance between those principles and commissioning is affected by the licensing process that the Government are introducing in the middle. The role of the independent regulator can easily undermine to the point of destruction the Government's objectives as stated in their policy. On that point, the December document gives cause for concern.
The first item that the Government have seen fit to identify as being a function of the licensing system is the
Xlimits on the provision of services to private patients."
We can all agree that it is a statistical fact that private patients are a relatively small part of NHS activity, but I take no comfort whatever from the fact that that is the first bullet point and the first objective listed for the licensing system. I do not understand why that is part of the licensing function at all when one of the basic principles that I have already mentioned says that other activities can be carried on only if they
Xare conducive to and are not detrimental to" the primary purpose of the foundation. Any further limit on the services to private patients is otiose.
The second bullet point is perhaps more fundamental in terms of the concerns that it raises. The licensing system will also deal with the clinical services that the foundation
Xmust provide to the local community".
If the independent regulator has carte blanche to address all the questions of what is the right type of clinical service to provide to a local community, what is the purpose of the commissioning system? That is what commissioning must be about. I agree with very little of what the Liberal Democrats' spokesman said, but I strongly agreed with him on the point that the key to success of the policy is strong commissioning. He advocated strong commissioning, and I would add that that is the natural partner of greater freedoms for the delivery of health care. The Government need to develop and publish clear thinking about the role of the independent regulator. The policy will be successful in direct proportion to the strength of commissioning and the relatively limited nature of the licensing system.
I am not arguing that no licensing system is necessary, but that the commissioning system, and not the licensing system, must be the principal focus of decision making. That extends to all the points that my hon. Friend Dr. Fox made about borrowing limits and poaching.
It is not a coincidence that there is a big debate in the Labour party about the introduction of foundation hospitals at the same time as there is a debate about the future evolution of university policy. The freedoms that the Secretary of State has rightly identified as necessary for the delivery of health care in the health service are exactly the same freedoms that need to be introduced in the schools system—indeed, we introduced them into that system through the grant-maintained schools idea—and that need to be developed in the university sector to allow the universities proper freedoms in the use of resources and the delivery of services to their client groups.
The Government must undertake a bold new reform of the delivery of services across the public sector. The gold standard—to use a phrase from the educational world—that the Department of Health should expect is no less freedom for an NHS foundation than the freedom that is accorded to the universities with which many of the foundation hospitals are closely associated through medical schools. I hope that, when the policy is finally implemented, universities and big NHS trusts—
It is a pleasure to follow Mr. Dorrell, who always makes an interesting speech. I did not agree with much of what he said, but he is one of the declining number of Tory Members who believe in the basic principles of the NHS. His time in the Department showed his concern for the health service, and I appreciate that. I recall many happy hours arguing with him about the internal market.
This is an Opposition day debate, but it is worth remarking on the fact that six Conservative Back Benchers are present and three of them are possibly here because they wish to make leadership bids. I wonder what Tory Members do with their time. It is their debate, so I would have expected far more interest in it from them.
They may have had a good lunch. It is not quite 3 o'clock, so they are probably still at lunch. [Interruption.] I will get on with it. Conservatives might be embarrassed by the fact that they have to defend their party when it is committed to a 20 per cent. cut in resources.
The hon. Gentleman might try to contradict me, but, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out, it is pretty clear from the comments that were made over Christmas that the Conservative party is looking at significant savings in the public sector. I listened with interest to the comments of Dr. Fox. He referred to seeing the NHS dismantled. [Interruption.] He used the term Xdismantled" in his speech, so it is interesting that this debate gives us an opportunity to consider where the Tories would go on the NHS.
I start with the basic belief that the NHS was the finest social policy achievement in this country in the 20th century. It established basic principles that are at the core of a decent society. They relate to how we treat the sick, and the NHS was the Labour party's greatest achievement. It is one reason why many of us on these Benches are members of the Labour party. I am proud to be a member of the party that created the NHS.
However, 54 years on from the NHS's introduction, it is worth reflecting on some of its positive and negative aspects. I accept that we have faced problems in those 54 years, and we must consider where we are now. First—this is relevant to the current debate—there has always been a democratic deficit in the NHS and the ownership issue is worthy of debate, even in the context of foundation proposals with which I am not entirely happy. There have been unforeseen medical advances and, consequently, costs and expectations have risen. Another problem that I have mentioned constantly and with which I have bored some of my colleagues to death is the failure to integrate health and social care. That is a factor in continuing difficulties with our health care system.
There has also been a failure to exploit the immense potential of primary care. It is worth remembering that, in the 1940s when the NHS was introduced, health centres were viewed as a key element of bringing the service together locally. We have never managed to deliver on that all these years later. I am delighted that, in my area and elsewhere, that concept is gradually, at long last, coming together.
Throughout the 54 years, one of the problems has been the dominance of the hospital sector. It saddens me that today's entire debate is geared to the hospital sector. We must understand that one of the fundamental failings of our health care system has been the way in which we have allowed ourselves to be drummed into believing that health is about hospitals. The picture goes much wider than that, and it saddens me that the Opposition's motion focuses solely on the hospital sector. That is evidence of a very narrow view of what health is all about.
It is incredible that the motion accuses the Government of creating a two-tier NHS. Talk about brass neck, as they say in my part of the world. The Conservatives are, of course, experts on two-tierism. It was a key concern in some of the debates that I had with the right hon. Member for Charnwood when the internal market was introduced. I compared the treatment available to my constituents in Wakefield with the treatment available in Leeds when we had postcode prescribing. The Government are trying to move away from that and they have achieved a number of successes.
I remember being phoned by a non-fundholding GP. She was concerned because when her patients rang the hospital to find out when they would be admitted, they were asked, XAre you a patient of a fundholding GP or a non-fundholding GP?" The simple fact was that patients of fundholding GPs, with more resources than the health authority, were admitted in advance of their next-door neighbours with similar conditions. So the Tories know all about two-tierism.
On fundholding GPs, before I came to the House I had a patient who was seriously ill with an acute form of leukaemia. When I phoned the hospital to get that person admitted as an emergency, I was asked whether I was a fundholding GP. As I was not, I was told that there would at the very least be severe complications in getting that person treated that day.
My hon. Friend must therefore understand why some of us are concerned never to replicate the experience of two-tierism that we had under the Conservative party. We do not want to return to a situation in which there is competition between NHS providers.
I mean no disrespect to my hon. Friend, but it has been made clear that foundation hospitals will not be introduced in Wales. If a foundation hospital in Bristol takes staff from his hospital in Cardiff, he might understand our concerns. However, if we were debating rugby in Wales, I would be happy to assist him with some of its current problems.
I welcome the serious steps taken by the Government to address the two-tierism that they inherited from the Conservatives. I welcome the advent of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence and its ability to consider the merits of treatment. It also ensures that there is consistency in prescription and the offering of treatments to individual patients. I welcome what is happening with primary care trusts, the collaboration between GPs at local level and the emphasis on primary care, which arises directly from the introduction of the trusts. I welcome the statutory duty of co-operation. My right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson mentioned that. It is exactly what the health service should be about. I also welcome the emphasis on quality, which interestingly has not been mentioned. The Government have taken serious steps to deal with quality problems in the NHS. The Health Committee picks up on quality issues and I appreciate the Government's attempts to deal with some of the difficulties.
There are a number of concerns about foundation hospitals. I am attracted to the discussion on placing NHS governance in the hands of local communities. I have argued for that for many years. If it is okay for foundation hospitals, why not for PCTs? The principle surely applies elsewhere in the health service. We should consider that. NHS governance and the foundation model are two separate issues. I am attracted to one but, frankly, not to the other. The foundation model is inconsistent with the positive broad direction of Government policy, which is travelling towards primary and community care. It is moving away from the dominance and power of the hospital sector towards the grassroots health workers in the community who know what patients want because they are nearer to them. The other direction of travel has been towards co-operation and collaboration and away from the internal market. It strikes me that a Conservative idea has emerged in the Red Box of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in Richmond house.
The Health Committee went to Sweden a couple of weeks ago. We saw its foundation model, which was introduced after a Conservative county council election victory. I should tell the House that the county councils in Sweden run the hospital sector. The foundation hospital was working in isolation and the links that I would expect from the acute sector in this country were not present. The hon. Member for Woodspring welcomed the foundation concept before Christmas. He said that it was
Xlaying the groundwork for the model which a future Conservative Government would like to see . . . it was a more market orientated approach."
It strikes me as something of a Trojan horse if it is a future Tory market model of health care. I am worried because the NHS began after the second world war, during a time of great reform and concerns about what the country had gone through. At the time, Britain recognised that a market system could never deliver basic decent principles of health care on the basis of need.
The Health Committee has agreed to undertake an inquiry into foundation hospitals. There will certainly be marked differences of opinion among Committee members who approach the problem from different perspectives. There are several key issues. The first is the apparent inconsistency with wider Government policy, most of which I strongly support and commend. The second is the impact on the wider NHS. My right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras illustrated that for London, and I can say the same for west Yorkshire. It is highly likely that the three-star Bradford hospital will become a foundation hospital. That will have an impact on Leeds, Huddersfield, Wakefield and all surrounding areas. We should be concerned about that, especially in relation to staffing. I also fear the impact of the freedoms proposed. They will result in relative deprivation for some areas. I do not expect that from a Labour Government.
The Government do listen to concerns. I can think of many examples of the health team commendably listening to Back Benchers. I hope that they listen to the serious concerns within the parliamentary Labour party and to the outcome of the Health Committee's inquiry. 2.57 pm
I have declared my interests in the register.
The test I apply to a health policy is this: will it be good for my constituents? I am a strong supporter of the NHS and its principles. I want all my constituents who need health care to get access to it in a timely way. I want them to receive high-quality care that is free at the point of need and use. I regret the way in which such debates are characterised by Labour Members, who make futile and inaccurate attacks on the Conservatives. Many of us are children of the NHS. We have received our care and attention from the NHS when we have needed it. The Conservatives have a long record in government of increasing money to the NHS year after year. We never privatised it or attacked it in the way that Labour Members claim, yet they are still peddling the same old nonsense.
Nor is it the case that Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen are wedded to 20 per cent. cuts across the board. I have seen a comment by the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who would not be doing his job if he were not looking for ways to improve and reduce spending, that he would like to find examples of wasteful spending that he could cut by 20 per cent. I am happy to recommend one to him from my area. I should like him to get rid of more than 20 per cent. of the regional government that is being foisted upon us. It is totally unnecessary and completely wasteful. I would rather have more nurses and doctors than more bureaucrats in Guildford misrepresenting our views and getting in our way.
I am delighted that the Royal Berkshire hospital, which serves my constituency and adjacent ones, received substantially larger sums in successive years under Conservative Administrations and has received more money under the Labour Administration. I am confident that when a Conservative Government are elected, they will not cut the amount of money going to that hospital, but that they will accept the budgets they inherit and see the need to continue to increase them, as they always did in the past. I wish that that were common ground between the parties.
Yes, it does say here, in The Sunday Telegraph of
XIt is a question of credibility. It is simply not believable to say that we can cut spending by 20 per cent. simply by removing waste and bureaucracy."
Does not that suggest that some of the 20 per cent. cut will attack public services, including the health service?
No, it does not suggest that at all. I repeat my firm promise and expectation that the policy, when announced in the run-up to the election, will not include a single cut to a hospital such as the Royal Berkshire hospital, and that our pledge to increase the number of nurses, doctors and other important medical staff in hospitals will need to be renewed. I am sure that we will want to employ all those whom we inherit, and I am equally sure that we will discover that there are not enough. That is because almost six years into a Labour Government—a Government who came to power pledged to save the NHS—we discover that the Royal Berkshire hospital is still chronically short of beds, consultants and nurses, waiting times are unacceptably long, and sometimes even the quality of care suffers because of the pressures the medical staff are under. I would dearly love the Government to sort that problem out. I thought that the one thing that a Labour Government might do for my local area was get enough money into the hospital to enable it to hire the staff needed, but, unfortunately, they have not done so.
When evaluating foundation hospitals, I ask myself whether they might be the answer. I find that difficult to judge yet, because of the paucity of information and the complexity of and imperfections in the details that have so far come before us. Sometimes, I wake up thinking, yes, foundation hospitals could be the answer—they could be real reform, providing the freedom we need to manage our hospital locally and the opportunity to raise money from private sources if we cannot get enough from public sources. On other occasions, when I hear Labour Ministers and spokesmen and read the conflicting details that emerge, I think that foundation hospitals will be merely an expensive charade.
What is needed to make the policy work? First, I would like my hospital and others like it to be eligible, regardless of star ratings. If it makes sense to free good hospitals, would it not make sense to free hospitals that are not doing well within the current structure, to see whether local management would be better than highly centralised management? I would like foundation status to be available to any group that wanted to improve the hospital and to exercise freedoms, whatever their current star rating.
Secondly, I would like genuine freedom to be given to those that gain foundation hospital status to borrow against their assets as well as against their revenue stream. An artificial distinction has been drawn. Today, we heard the Secretary of State say that it would be quite wrong to allow foundation hospitals to borrow against their assets, because the wicked capitalists might, in certain circumstances, then take the assets away, but it is perfectly reasonable to let them borrow against their revenue stream. I cannot see how that type of technical nitpicking will work in practice.
The right hon. Gentleman believes that all hospitals should be given the opportunity to become foundation hospitals. Is he suggesting that even hospitals that are manifestly failing to deliver a reasonable service should be given those freedoms, without any sorts of checks and balances to prevent their failing their local communities even more than some are doing currently?
I do not think that they would fail their communities more. I think that they would fail them less if they had more freedom. Much of the failure derives from central control, direction, intervention and bureaucracy, which is well above the heads of local management. That must be the Secretary of State's view, because he now wishes to trust local management more.
Next, I want real democracy to surround the idea of members of a foundation hospital. Some Labour Members are on to that real difficulty in the Government's position, and I am sure that they will not be satisfied by the Secretary of State's argument, which is that people should have to volunteer to be members of the hospital. That would mean that small groups of people who are motivated in a certain way—not necessarily by the public interest or the interests of everyone else—could take over a foundation hospital and, through the lethargy and inertia of everyone else, gain control over extremely important assets.
If we are to take the democratic route—there is much to recommend doing so—it must be done as a democracy of all the people in the area served by the hospital. That surely means using the electoral roll and having elections to the board of those institutions. I suggest, for cost reasons, holding them at the same time and in parallel with elections to the local council, so that the normal democratic apparatus can be used without much being added to the cost burden.
It would be far more democratic to provide the chance to cast a vote when making important choices about people who will offer guidance in an important sector of public service, and thus influence the lives of those who need health care, to the electorate as a whole than to give it only to self-selecting and self-interested groups of people. I do not want my local hospital to become a foundation hospital based on a limited number of people who expressed an interest because they happened to be in the right place on the right day to see an advertisement in the newspaper. I want democratic involvement to be extended far more broadly, to all the electors in the area, who are, after all, the paymasters of the organisation because they pay the taxes.
How would the right hon. Gentleman achieve the involvement of my constituents who live in the rural Over Wyre area, who have a great allegiance to and need to use the services of the excellent Blackpool Victoria hospital, but who do not live within its immediate area?
That is an interesting complexity, but I would be democratically generous and give them a vote in the affairs of any foundation hospital that served their area. That might mean their having a vote in respect of more than one foundation hospital, which brings me neatly to my third important point.
In some of the Government's rhetoric I have noted words and phrases that I find a little surprising, but welcome—those attacking what they call Xthe monolith". When, before I became a Minister, I wrote a pamphlet setting out why I thought the NHS monolith had many defects and was rather old-fashioned, Labour was horrified. Now, we discover that that is language that both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Health are happy to use, but they must think through what they are saying, which is that it is the monopoly elements of the NHS that are serving patients badly. I agree with that.
One of my disappointments is that amalgamations, mergers and closures under Governments of both parties over the past 20 years have resulted in my area having, in effect, only one hospital offering services. I would prefer a variety of hospitals of different shapes, sizes and styles offering different choices. I deeply regret the closure of many of the smaller hospitals, maternity hospitals and accident and emergency centres. Under Governments of both parties, the argument ran that the health service needed to specialise, concentrate and create those large monopolies, but monopolies are not the normal mode of operation in other sectors of public service. I therefore want the Government to extend their dislike of monoliths and to understand that what we need are foundation hospitals of a variety of styles and sizes serving local communities—a plurality of foundation hospitals.
The Government have not gone that far, because doing so would get them into ideological dispute with many of their supporters. Labour Back Benchers believe that a command-and-control system, with monopoly hospitals guided from the centre and the Secretary of State being responsible for every bedpan, is the way to run the health service, and they are extremely unhappy about the freedoms that are now being offered to local hospitals through this potentially interesting scheme. The Government will not go the distance because they will find it difficult to persuade their supporters that offering real choice—having smaller hospitals as well as bigger ones, and having more than one hospital in an area and a contrast of styles—is a good idea.
I can understand the dilemma. The Labour party desperately wants to create common standards across the country so that everyone has access to treatment that is of the highest possible quality. So do I—if only. However, I happen to think that choice drives that system better than monolithic and central control. Labour Members who are most critical of the Government fear that foundation hospitals will introduce a two-tier health service, but do they not realise that we already have a multi-tier health service? We have a great deal of postcode rationing: certain treatments can be obtained in some places, but not in others, and in others still a long wait is required. Even the distribution of medicines, despite the intervention of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, has an element of local differentiation.
The Labour party has to accept that if it chooses the route of localism there will be variations and diversity—but its document on foundation hospitals does not deal with that central dilemma. The Government say that they want both diversity and common high national standards, both strong central regulation and freedom for individuals to make local decisions. My point is that the Government have to choose; they must decide whether they really believe that a system of diversity and choice delivers the best average results—that is my view—or that a bit more money, or a bit more command and control, will deliver better results. If the latter, they should choose that route.
The danger is that the foundation hospital will fall between two stools, and be neither one thing nor the other. It could end up as an expensive charade. It could spend a lot of money on recruiting members and appointing the board and the new management team, only to discover that it does not have all the powers that it needs to pledge the assets and borrow the money to negotiate the right contracts and deals, to sell its assets and buy different ones that might be better for its purposes, or to hire the staff that it wants.
Other hon. Members have pointed out the awful contradiction between local terms and conditions of employment, which I strongly welcome and recommend in my local area, and the idea that there must not be any poaching or movement of staff around the former NHS system. Again the Government are demonstrating muddle, and they must make up their mind. I strongly recommend that they go for more choice and diversity and more local determination.
That means foundation hospitals based on a full democratic electorate, with full power to borrow and to pledge their assets. It means allowing foundation hospitals to sell and buy assets as they see fit, in pursuance of their duty to provide health care for their areas. It means allowing them to choose not only the staff they wish to employ but the way in which they remunerate them. Yes, that does mean allowing them the right to attract staff from other health institutions. Where else are health staff likely to come from? That will be good for the staff because it means new ideas and new people spread around—and of course, the better staff will be paid more under that system, which I also happen to think is a rather good idea, which will help innovation and drive higher quality.
My fear is that the Government will do few of those things, and we will end up with another expensive bureaucracy and there will be a multi-tier health service. Foundation hospitals will be given not only greater freedoms but more money to try to make them work, to create a favourable impression. That will leave other hospitals, such as my local hospital, struggling. I would like to see a system open for all and free for all the patients, with many more freedoms for the managers, based on proper local democratic mandates.
Thank you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have often sat on these Benches frustrated by my inability to take part in a debate when I wanted to do so, but I have never before found that that had anything to do with my nationality. I am pleased to be able to take part in the debate on foundation hospitals. Although it is true that for the time being the First Minister of Wales has said that he does not wish to introduce foundation hospitals in Wales, their introduction, and their success or otherwise in the rest of the United Kingdom, is bound to have an influence on my constituents.
As a former Health Minister for Wales, I can claim to have some experience of the problems of health service management, and as a Member whose constituents suffer the longest waiting lists not only in the United Kingdom but in Europe, I understand something of the frustration that they feel about the present provision of services. As I represent those people, I may say that the impression that has sometimes been given in the debate, that the present system does not involve more than one tier of provision, is completely erroneous. We have a wide disparity of provision within the United Kingdom, and the present system does not appear to be eroding that disparity—or at least, not at any great pace.
Momentous decisions were taken when the Prime Minister was convinced by a Member of the other place that money needed to be invested in the health service at a great rate, as happens in the rest of Europe, and the Wanless report was commissioned. That report said that the most efficient mechanism for paying for services would be through general taxation, rather than introducing some of the more disparate funding mechanisms used in the rest of Europe. It would also be much less destructive to fund the health service out of general taxation. However, the Wanless report also recognised that there was a downside to that, in that there would be less accountability and choice, and less competition, in the model that we were choosing. To make up for that, the extended audit system, which has yet to be put in place, was recommended, so that the taxpayers could be assured that they were receiving value for money in exchange for the considerable increase in spending on the health service.
If we compare the activity rates of the present health service with the rate of increase in spending, we see that there is a fairly wide gap. That point has been made by the Opposition—for political reasons, and also maybe for better ones. The defence against that argument—I think it is a substantial one—is that there is bound to be a lag between the time when we start putting in the investment and the time when we begin to achieve the full benefit of that investment. The underinvestment that went on for several decades under Conservative Governments will take a considerable time to undo. I agree that that is a substantial defence, and that we should not expect to see in the short term rapid increases in activity rates commensurate with the extra spending.
Nevertheless, hon. Members will acknowledge—it is difficult to prove this, but it will be backed up by the many anecdotes that will be told them in their surgeries—that there are problems inherent in our system that are not simply a matter of investment. I shall tell the House one anecdote that made me think about structures. It is not to do with my constituents; it is about my family.
About a year ago, I had a call at 5 o'clock in the morning from a close elderly relative who was in an accident and emergency unit in a major hospital in south Wales. He had a life-threatening condition and had not seen a doctor. I drove straight to the hospital, and was most distressed. He had not seen a doctor because of a lack of resources, which are now being put in. However, another reason for his distress was the condition of the waiting room he was in and the filthy toilets alongside. Knowing that he was possibly about to have a life-saving operation, he did not have overwhelming confidence in the institution he was in. When he went on to the ward, he received excellent service, and he began to feel far better. On my way out, I went into the toilet next to the lift which had probably not been cleaned for a year.
I was most distressed by my elderly relative's condition. That evening, I had to attend a party meeting in a junior school, and was thinking about what I would tell the party members. I looked at the hall floor, and noticed that it was spotless. I spoke to the caretaker, and told him of my experience. He took me to the toilets, which were also spotless. I thought, XThere is no way we are investing money and resources to ensure that the schools are kept cleaner than hospitals. It is not a matter of resources." If the school floors and toilets were as dirty as that hospital, the governors would not put up with it. The parent governors in particular have such an investment in the school that they would not tolerate it. However, even if they did, parents have a choice, albeit limited, about which school their children attend, and they would choose not to send them to that school.
That accountability did not exist for my elderly relative in hospital—there is no equivalent of the parent governor there. He had no choice about where he would go. Somehow, we must introduce systems that provide greater accountability, transparency and choice. If we do not, the service will not be as responsive as we wish, never mind the resources that we put in. Mr. Dorrell mentioned grant-maintained schools, of which there are none, I am glad to say, in my constituency. However, local management of schools was a good idea introduced by his party. Something like the local management of hospitals would improve the service that is provided.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman remembers that when I was Secretary of State for Wales I diverted money from elsewhere in the budget to put extra into the health service. I found that with all the command and control that a Secretary of State is meant to have, it was extremely difficult to get the health service to spend that money on the extra nurses and doctors whom I thought it needed.
I well remember the right hon. Gentleman's time as Secretary of State for Wales, about which I have mixed views. However, our debates were open, he was always prepared to debate his point of view and was supportive of local hospitals.
I am prepared to welcome the idea of foundation hospitals. I do not think that they will necessarily provide all the solutions, but they are an experiment that we need to look at. However, I am wary of suddenly expanding that experiment without any testing, as the Opposition seem to be suggesting. I urge my hon. Friends, who are reluctant to look at foundation hospitals for understandable reasons, to see the ideological position that needs to be defended—public services, including the provision of health care, must be successful and must be seen to be successful. As a Government, we must successfully deliver good-quality health care. If we fail, that will provide a true opportunity for the Opposition. If we are not prepared to look at the reform of our health service, we will fail.
Although I usually speak on the trade and industry and manufacturing sector, which has severe problems of its own, I am delighted to be able to contribute to the debate, because of the serious situation that faces the hospitals in my constituency. If those hospitals are facing difficult situations, it means that my constituents are suffering. The complaint ratios coming in over the past three years or so are more severe than for the previous 20 or 30 years. I am not surprised. We are led by a Government whose experience is limited to what I have described as sucking on the hind teat of political experience, rather than knowledge and experience in the real world.
I have a terrible mixture of anger and sadness—anger because I remember vividly the criticisms made by the party now in government when we were in government. We heard how they would make things so much better, and how dreadful we were—24 hours to save the NHS. What have we got now? We have a list of complaints as long as one's arm. I am saddened by the stories that I hear from my constituents. What do I say to a widow who comes to see me and tells me, XMy husband was a year on the waiting list for heart surgery, and he died as they were preparing him for surgery, having waited a year"?
What do I say to my constituent who came to my surgery a month or so ago, saying, XI can't get the diabetic treatment in Hertfordshire, although I can get it in Buckinghamshire"? What do I say to the old boy who told me, XI went in for some tests, and I saw how dirty it was under the bed, so I put a #1 coin under the bed. I had my tests and they took a week, and when I left, I bent down and picked up my #1 coin and took it away again"? What do I say to the man who had a stroke and did not receive any physiotherapy for four months? We all know how necessary it is to have physiotherapy immediately. I had a case in this morning of a poor lady who had suffered a stroke, and had already had three bouts of infection from hospital. The list can go on and on.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not tell constituents who have those problems that the way to solve them is to cut public expenditure and reduce the amount of money going into the health service. He must tell his constituents that the only way to solve the problems is more investment and the reform needed to make that investment work, so that his constituents can look forward to increased rather than reduced health care.
The hon. Gentleman must stop writing the script for the Labour party and stop starting to believe it. I shall deal with his point in a moment.
I welcome the concept of foundation hospitals. They could be a means of improving the health care of my constituents, but what of the hundreds of other hospitals that are not given foundation status and foundation opportunities? What will happen to the Hemel Hempsteads and the Watfords of this world? The hon. Gentleman speaks of money. The Government muddle up money and management. My hon. Friend Dr. Fox—I hope that he will shortly be my right hon. Friend—commented that more than 20 per cent. more money went in, but there was only a 1.6 per cent. increase in treatment.
I have to smile when I find that there is agreement between my right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood and Mr. McCartney—a sort of unholy alliance—when they ask how the Government's scheme is to be rolled out for the rest of the acute hospitals. There is a huge gap between the cost and the achievement, as Mr. Jones pointed out. How true that is. We must examine more effectively the level of efficiency that is being achieved. The Government think that if they throw money at a problem, it will go away. I remind them of their experience with the dome. How many hundred millions of public money were thrown at the dome, and what do we have? A tatty example, instead of a shining example, of what Britain is really like.
Nothing brings things home to people more than personal experience. Just over a couple of years ago, one of my larger four-footed friends deposited me on the ground at a fairly high rate of knots. Being old and unfit and not bouncing like I used to, I hit the ground more with a splat than with the youthful enthusiasm that I had in the past. The ambulance arrived and the staff did their job remarkably effectively. I was taken to a hospital, but the process turned out to be almost an Ealing-type comedy. My total treatment time was about 20 minutes, but I was at the hospital for more than 10 hours.
I had heard that there were now more administrators than beds in the health service, but I did not see my personal administrator standing beside my bed to look after my needs. When one is lying in pain, feeling waves of pain washing over, one is not that interested in the technicalities of funding national health provision or in whether it is private or public or whether the nurses are regular nurses or agency ones. One is looking only for treatment. The staff discovered that I had broken a shoulder, my collarbone and rib or two, and I can tell hon. Members—I can see concern in every face—that I have made a full and happy recovery.
I came away thinking, XSurely we can run our national health service better than this?" I waited 10 hours for 20 minutes' treatment. I cannot see that we will achieve anything else by conducting review upon review and counter-review. In my constituency, shortly before the general election, we had another review of the Watford and Hemel Hempstead general hospitals. Surprise, surprise: the decision was made to keep them both open. Immediately after the election, however, the Government announced the decision to close Harefield and the reviews started again. Interestingly, the decision to close Harefield, a well-known international heart hospital, was made even before planning permission was gained for the move down to the Paddington basin. A leaked report completed a few months ago asked for about #5 million or #6 million more to be spent on Harefield to keep it going for another five years, so some more operations could be carried out there, as delays were occurring in Paddington. I have encountered such trouble in my constituency, where we have spent more and more money on project after project and building after building, only for the projects to be reversed and the buildings knocked down, so that we have to start again.
Dr. Stoate commented on Conservative party policy, as did the Secretary of State, who also wrote the policy according to his own lights. I share the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham, as I would be appalled if we cut the money that is currently going into our national health service, but I would like us to achieve a higher rate of efficiency. The money should not be wasted and we should not spend 20 per cent. more to achieve only a 1.6 per cent. increase in clinical episodes.
Although the Opposition have been accused of confusion, it is not unknown in the Labour party. I was greatly impressed by the comments of right the hon. Member for Makerfield in The Guardian on
Xwill crystallise the deep unease many Labour MPs have about a Government which appears to have no moral core".
It is transparently clear from the fact that 100-plus Members have signed the early-day motion on foundation hospitals that there is deep concern that we are creating a two-tier system.
I find myself on the horns of a dilemma. I want to see these foundation hospitals up and running; they seem to be the way to go. The new system will retain them within the national health service while giving them greater freedom for individual expressions of management and control. But what about the hundreds of other hospitals that will be left outside, unable to catch up? The Labour party said that there were 24 hours to save the NHS. Suddenly that became 10 years. When did that 10 years start? Was it in 1997? Did it start a year or so ago? Has it started now? When is this 10-year plan going to come to fruition? When will the hospitals in Hertfordshire—in Hemel Hempstead and Watford, and at Mount Vernon—have the chance to take advantage of the opportunities that are being given to the foundation hospitals? When will my constituents have the chance to obtain a better level of service? I have already outlined my concerns about the quality of service being given to my constituents, and I could spend hours going through them, time and again, to the House. We have all had experience of cases in our surgeries; every one of us has a tale of horror burned into us.
We must ensure that we improve our national health service. While supporting the move towards foundation hospitals, I would like to hear from the Minister what is to happen to all the other hospitals that are going to be left out in the cold. What about the Watfords, the Hemel Hempsteads and the Mount Vernons of our society?
I welcome the debate about foundation hospitals. Perhaps because some part of me is a latent Trotskyist, I believe that every public organisation—including the one that we hold most dear—has to be subject to considerations of how it should be organised and structured. When we are in a position to put large amounts of money into the national health service over the next 10 years, we must consider how best that money should be spent and in which ways.
I am encouraged by this debate because these measures are about increasing public involvement in our cherished institution, and anyone here who has ever been in a constituency in which a hospital is threatened knows just how fervent the support for the NHS is. Anyone who has ever attempted to get a petition together in such circumstances knows how easy it is to get members of the public to sign it and become involved in their local NHS.
There will be an opportunity within foundation hospitals to allow them more clearly to reflect the needs of the community in which they are based. Uniformity does not guarantee equality. We have a multi-layered and multi-standard NHS. All our constituents know how good or bad their local hospitals are. There is already competition between the teaching hospital and the local district general, for example. Where do people want to go if they have a complicated ailment? There is also competition in terms of how we view hospitals with old or new buildings. The idea that we all believe that everything is equal and the same across the NHS is simply not true. Our constituents do not believe that to be the case either.
I find the idea of diversity exciting. It offers the prospect of real innovation. My feelings about diversity and the opportunities that it presents stem from my experience in my work before I came to the House. I worked in the most exciting, vibrant and innovative part of the voluntary sector in the country: I worked for a housing association. In fact, I worked for both a local authority housing department and a housing association. If people really want to provide more, better housing in exciting ways, housing associations are the place to be. They have core principles, just like the NHS. One core principle is to house those in need, but they do it in many different ways depending on which part of the country they are based in. They represent different ethnic groups and they are formed out of the needs of the local community.
I have read the Department of Health briefing document on foundation hospitals and, for me, it reflects what could be and what is good in housing associations as well as how that might be introduced to the NHS. Housing associations, not local authority housing departments, are at the cutting edge of providing services for the most vulnerable and the most difficult to house. Due to their freedom, housing associations can consider and tackle the needs of groups that local authorities often shy away from.
I understand and fully appreciate why people are concerned about changes in structure, because, for 17 years under the Conservative Government, we fought for the continued existence of the NHS. Any threat or any change to that institution makes us concerned that perhaps it is being undermined, but diversity is not about sacrificing standards, and the Commission for Health Improvement and the National Institute for Clinical Excellence are fundamental in ensuring that we have national standards, although those could be provided in different ways across the country.
Giving foundation status to some will not impoverish the rest. The proposal will provide an opportunity as well as an expression of how and why we can improve. It is not about money, as the Liberal spokesperson suggested. It is about the room to manoeuvre as well as the room to have a good idea and seeing it happen.
Will my hon. Friend explain this example to me? My constituency is in the north-east. If Sunderland general hospital, which is a three-star trust, goes down the foundation route and attracts better staff and if people feel that it is better than the excellent University Hospital of North Durham, how could North Durham and neighbouring hospitals not be affected by that?
People already have a perception of which they believe to be the better hospital. My constituency is served by St. Helier, which is a local district hospital that I mentioned earlier, and St. George's, which is a teaching hospital. People already have perceptions. They do not need the word Xfoundation" to be included to make them have certain feelings about those hospitals.
Equally, it is patently not the case that there are not already different incentives for staff to work in certain hospitals. Staff at St. Helier get outer-London weighting while those at St. George's get inner-London weighting. Those hospitals are a mile and a half apart. Staff at St. Helier get a really good crêche for their children while that is not the case at other hospitals. There are already incentives built into the system to attract staff. I understand the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend Mr. Jones, but we do not perceive the NHS as our constituents already perceive it.
The proposal is not about assisting a few; it is for the many. The document suggests that every hospital, should it achieve three-star status, will have the opportunity to go for foundation status. That is the key. What we are discussing is not like grant-maintained status for schools, which could only ever be accessed by a few. Foundation status is a possibility for all those hospitals.
Will the hon. Lady consider the possibility of a hospital that has achieved two-star status being given foundation status as a way to raise its standards and achieve three stars?
It seems reasonable that the best standard—three stars—should be achieved before that freedom is given. I cannot understand why no-star or one-star hospitals should have the prospect of more freedom when they are clearly unable to address some of their basic problems. The logic of that is there for me.
The proposal is not about recreating an internal market, because it is clear that different hospitals will not offer different prices for different operations when the NHS reference costs are introduced. I know that there are difficulties there, because the reference costs are quite bizarre at the moment, but if we can get to a stage at which we know the cost of an operation in a particular region we shall achieve much more clarity and openness over contracts with the PCT.
I firmly believe that the NHS is under threat in the long term not from Labour Members or people of my age and older, but because younger people—those in their 20s and early 30s—will not put up with the system as it is, even when we get the full benefits of the investment. They live in a society and a world in which they enjoy international access within seconds. They want treatment now, and they want to be involved in a system that allows them some control over the services provided for them.
I completely understand why people are concerned about change to a system that we cherish desperately. However, we must ask whether we cherish it because of the way that it is currently structured, or because, based on everything that made us become members of the Labour party and stand for election, we believe that people should have the very best treatment when they need it, at no cost. That is our fundamental belief, and if we need to change the system in some way to ensure that that the wider community continues to cherish that goal, we should consider doing so.
During his first Parliament as Secretary of State for Health, the right hon. Gentleman was obsessed by central control and central planning, and ran the health service in an almost Stalinist style. Some way into his second Parliament as Secretary of State, he is finally taking on board some of the policies of choice and diversity that are truly Conservative ones. According to the leaked memo that is doing the rounds of the newspapers, we hear that extra billions may not sort out the NHS. In other words, throwing money at the problem will not necessarily lead to a solution.
In one particular way—it has already been touched on—the proposal for foundation hospitals is unbelievably divisive. As it stands, it excludes all hospitals in Leicestershire because all of them have two-star status. In other words, the great Leicester royal infirmary, Glenfield hospital and others will be excluded. There is a very strong case for using this proposal as an incentive, certainly in a county such as mine, where not a single hospital has three-star status.
It is perhaps no surprise that more than 100 Labour Members have signed an early-day motion that opposes these proposals. In fact, they are founded on Conservative policies and derive from the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990. As originally passed, that Act gave NHS trusts the freedom to determine staff terms and conditions. Furthermore, the notion of some financial control independent of Government was proposed by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke when he was Secretary of State for Health. No financial control was given—[Interruption.] Mr. Dobson seems to be trying to intervene—I hope that he is agreeing with me. He is beyond the white lines, so he is out of court and cannot speak. The fact is that my right hon. and learned Friend's proposals did not get past the then Chancellor because the then Opposition complained that they were all about privatisation. So this really is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
The proposals put much store on governance arrangements giving local stakeholders, patients and people in the local community far greater control. There will be real opportunities for local people through the management proposals, and I certainly welcome that because it is in line with our party's policy. During yesterday's debate in Westminster Hall, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, Ms Blears said that we want are new ways of doing things and new governance arrangements. Indeed, according to a press release from the Under-Secretary of State for Health, Mr. Lammy, there will be a
Xnew era in patient and public involvement in the NHS".
He said that the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health will not just promote but
Xchampion . . . the involvement of the public".
Well, that is great news, because one question that the Government must address is what these new people—the local people who will get control, not the apparatchiks or central control freaks from Richmond house—will ask for. What will they ask for? They will ask for services that many already use.
The hon. Gentleman has it in one. He should be promoted.
The Minister clearly agrees. Foundation hospitals should be required to move to an integrated delivery of service, which should include the main complementary therapies—osteopathy, chiropractic, homeopathy, acupuncture and herbal medicine. I served on the Standing Committees scrutinising the Bills in the 1987 and 1992 Parliaments that put provision of chiropractic and osteopathy on the statute book; then many doctors still considered them to be beyond the pale. The fact that they are pretty much mainstream now is to be welcomed.
I have always believed that I represent two constituencies in the House. I have been lucky enough to represent Bosworth, a constituency in the middle of England, for 15 years. I have also tried to represent the interests of minority groups who practise complementary and alternative medicine for about 14 years. In that time, there has been a sea change in the House's approach to such matters.
In Bosworth, I have 80,000 constituents. My other constituency consists of 10 million people—the number of people using complementary and alternative medicines every year. Recent surveys report that 4.5 million people see a complementary therapist every year. A BBC poll in August 1999 estimated that 20 per cent. of the public used complementary therapies, double the number of 10 years earlier. I shall not bore the House with statistics, but it also showed that 80 per cent. were satisfied with the treatment that they received.
I checked the Library this morning and found that the country now has a population of 59.1 million. Of that total, between 25 to 35 per cent. of people now buy remedies, such as simple homeopathic preparations, from chemists. The market is expanding exponentially, as is interest. Whenever I ask colleagues in the House to sign a motion, they always tell me—although they sometimes ask me not to quote them by name—that they have, for example, relatives who take various remedies for their ills. In fact, the Minister of State, Department of Health, Mr. Hutton, went on the record in a debate on complementary medicines in the summer as saying that he used, I think it was, reflexology.
The Government have been on the road to Damascus and now want people to have more choice. They have a wonderful opportunity. In 1981, there were only 13,500 therapists in the complementary sector, but there are now 40,000. That is because of a rise in demand for their services. However, those services are not supplied through NHS hospitals very much. The complementary sector remains the preserve of the middle classes. If the Minister wants a social cause to promote, she should get the range of treatments on offer firmly embedded in the public sector.
Many people come to me on these matters, and I shall cite some reasons why the NHS should embrace complementary therapies. For people undergoing chemotherapy for prostate cancer and other problems, an amazingly effective treatment is the use of Chinese herbs and acupuncture. The chemotherapy is rendered much less painful, and recovery periods are much reduced.
A year or so ago, I was giving awards at the Royal Free hospital to doctors who had studied complementary medicine. A nurse told me that she was not allowed to use acupuncture on transplant patients, even though fewer transplanted organs would be lost if she were given the opportunity to change patients' energy meridians. I do not want to alarm Dr. Tonge, but powerful steroids are used to treat skin conditions, when there are many ways to treat those conditions with homeopathic or herbal medicine techniques. Simple problems such as tinnitus or the difficulties currently treated with grommets are also susceptible to that approach.
There is phenomenal, exponential demand in the health service for such therapies, yet many people do not have the opportunity for treatment. The Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Barrow and Furness, has done quite a lot of work on this and the Government are coming round to the view that these therapies should be incorporated in the health service. I pay tribute to them for getting Professor Pitillo to work on regulating herbal medicine and Professor Chan on acupuncture. These disciplines will soon be regulated; they will have the stamps in the passport that the doctors want. The march of integrated health care will not be stopped. The Minister of State, Jacqui Smith, should grasp the nettle now.
It may not be on the Order Paper but it is very germane because the way in which we run these hospitals will affect the treatment that they provide. That is obvious.
The Marylebone health centre has produced guidance. I have no interest to declare, other than the fact that I went to the launch. It has produced guidelines on integrated health—
Order. First, let me remind the hon. Gentleman that visual aids are not encouraged in the Chamber. Secondly, he should relate his remarks to foundation hospitals, if he can manage to do so.
I have no intention of being ruled out of order in the little time left. I want to see the book entitled XIntegrating Complementary Therapies in Primary Care" used in foundation hospitals—the subject of this debate. I can say with some pride that it is a good few years since I have been ruled out of order in the Chamber, but I would not want to excite your interest in keeping me in order too much, Mr. Deputy Speaker. However, the guidelines in the book contain policies that I would like to see adopted in foundation hospitals, and explain exactly how conventional managers can integrate and introduce these disciplines and make them work. Many doctors want integrated therapies to be introduced; they cannot cope with conventional treatments. Many surgeons in foundation hospitals would benefit from having osteopaths and chiropractors working alongside them. It is important for the new hospitals that we take the practical steps of integrating complementary therapies into mainstream care.
Doctors are, by and large, keen to have a better understanding of complementary therapies. There are new courses available at the training colleges and universities, but I am afraid that some doctors are still, to say the least, patronising and ill informed about some aspects of these therapies. They resent them, and their attitude is based on fear and insecurity.
The Government should push ahead as fast as they can on two fronts. They should ensure that there is voluntary self-regulation for all disciplines, including aromatherapy, and not just acupuncture and herbal medicine. They should also make it possible for doctors to learn, if they want to, how these therapies work. In that way, the Government will reduce the burden on the health service, make the foundation hospitals more effective and improve the health of the nation.
It is always a pleasure to follow Mr. Tredinnick. Although I do not agree with everything he says, I believe that there is a case for alternative medicines in foundation hospitals and, indeed, all hospitals. I am very pleased that my son is retraining to specialise in chiropractic, acupuncture and Chinese medicine.
I strongly support the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. I thank him for his announcement on
Furthermore, I am pleased that we are carrying out the final contract negotiations for the new Queen Mary's hospital in my constituency. The contract is due to be signed next summer and the hospital is scheduled to open in new buildings in 2005. The capital spend for the project amounts to about #45 million.
Recently, Mr. Page and, earlier in the debate, Mr. Redwood cast some doubt over the utterances of the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury—who was formerly one of my constituents in Putney—on the 20 per cent. cuts. I am sure that when the hon. Gentleman made his comments during the recess he meant what he said about the cuts, so I am warning my constituents about what might happen in the future should there be a Conservative Government.
We need to look to the past and remember the 1990s when NHS funding declined every year. My right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson made a strong indictment of that. The death warrant for Queen Mary's district general hospital was signed in December 1996, in the dying days of the last Conservative Government, but now we see the hospital's resurrection, phoenix-like, under the Labour Government.
I welcome the principle of NHS foundation trusts. I emphasise my reference to the principle; in a sense, we are talking about work in progress. It is important to move from Whitehall micro-management to management through regulation and inspection of the best performing hospitals. We already have a two-tier national health service; indeed, some people would say that there are more than two tiers. There is certainly not a single tier at present and it is extremely important to level up all hospitals to the best.
I want to comment on the principles. It is essential that the central management of the NHS concentrate their time on the worst performing hospitals, leaving the best to manage within the regulatory framework. The worst performing hospitals should receive more money than the best, not less. The foundation hospitals should certainly be able to borrow, but that should be on the balance sheet. However, we must ensure that hospitals, such as Kingston hospital and St. George's hospital, which serve my constituents, are not left in a situation where the total pot of money has been diminished because money has been drawn down by foundation hospitals ahead of those that do not yet have a three-star rating.
XOrganisations that are not yet at the level of the best need extra help. We want to be able to concentrate on supporting them in order to bring everyone up to the standards of the best. Our policy is about promoting excellence for everybody, not about setting hospital against hospital."—[Hansard, Westminster Hall, 7 January 2003; Vol. 397, c. 22WH.]
I say, XHear, hear" to that.
We need to listen to the unions as we go forward with the proposals. Some unions have expressed concern, although others have not yet made their views known. I was pleased that the views of Unison were taken into account when adapting the private finance initiative contract for Queen Mary's hospital so as to ensure that NHS staff remained NHS employees under the PFI. It is important to reassure the unions that the proposals are not divisive and that they will not set work force against work force. Now that we have negotiated the agenda for change policy, we need to build on it so that the situation does not fall apart.
The last and most important point on which I want to concentrate is that of governance, to which many hon. Members have returned. I am particularly eager that local patients should elect the boards of their hospitals. I do not wish to see a return to the cronyism under the last Conservative Government in terms of appointments to NHS boards. I very much welcomed the appointment of Sir William Wells as chair of the NHS Appointments Commission. Many excellent people have been appointed as chairs and non-executive directors of trusts over recent years, but they are accountable to only one person—the Secretary of State. I very much want to see a move towards wider accountability to the community.
I share the strong views of my hon. Friend Mr. Hinchliffe in terms of wanting the NHS and social services to come together with local authorities. In fact, that is one of the few matters on which I agree with Edward Lister, the leader of Wandsworth council, in whose area my constituency lies. I have proposed and supported that cause over the past 15 years, but it was not on the agenda for the previous Government, and it is not on the agenda for this Government. It is important to recognise that what is now on the agenda is a level of local accountability to local electors that has not existed previously.
I was pleased to hear the response of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to questions about the nature of the electoral basis of foundation hospitals. He had taken account of the situation that exists in my constituency, where there is not an acute hospital. As a result, my constituents are served by both Kingston hospital and St. George's hospital, and it is important that the electoral roll for voting for governors of such hospitals should include all those within the catchment area. That is something to be expanded and developed. I recognise, too, the caveat in relation to specialist hospitals that cover very large areas, which require an electoral basis that relates to the patients rather than to the whole of London, as that would plainly be absurd.
I support the proposals for election and accountability of governors, chairs of boards and non-executive directors. I particularly like the idea of the two-tier board, which takes us back to many of the discussions that the Labour party had in the 1970s about new methods and new ways forward.
Going back to the 1970s, can my hon. Friend remember a time when councils had the right to nominate an elected councillor to sit on such boards? Would not that be a better way forward?
I would certainly like more nomination rights in relation to all hospitals for local authority representatives. Currently, a basis exists on which it is presumed that the cabinet member for social services for the area in which a primary care trust operates should serve on that primary care trust. I would certainly like more representatives of local councils on an interim basis. What attracts me to the proposal, however, is that the majority of the governors for a foundation hospital would be locally elected. That would be the first time in the NHS that power has gone to the people and the patients and moved away from the clinicians, the bureaucrats and everyone else working within the NHS. That is an important initial move.
I support the amendment, but I want to quickly set out my four points. First, management should be freed up within foundation hospitals that have improved themselves, with the key caveat that extra support should go to those that have not. Secondly, there must be more money for the worst performers, but for foundation hospitals there must be less restraint and speedier access to finance. However, that should not drain the pool of resources so that other hospitals lose out. Thirdly, the NHS must work with the unions, as Queen Mary's hospital has done. All good companies and successful organisations work with the unions, and it is important that Health Ministers adopt that practice. Lastly, we must establish a local election process with local accountability within national standards and regulatory frameworks.
I return to the comment with which I started. I warn the people of Putney that the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury is putting under threat the 30 per cent. increase in funding announced last December. If he had his way, there would be a 20 per cent. cut in funding for public services.
You are being very generous, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in allowing us a certain amount of freedom, and I would like first to make one comment to Mr. Tredinnick. He must know that many conventionally trained NHS anaesthetists are already undertaking acupuncture in NHS pain relief clinics.
Turning to the main subject, I welcome very much the Secretary of State's admission that there are still problems in the NHS and that they will take some years to solve. There are still major weaknesses and health inequalities in the service, but I pay tribute to the improvements in cancer care and cardiac care. It is a shame that a meeting of the parliamentary health forum just before Christmas was so badly attended—I think that only four or five MPs were present—because the tsar of cardiac services told us how waiting lists for cardiac surgery are improving.
Dr. Harris said that there is one good point about foundation hospitals, and I agree. That one extremely good point is devolution. Most hon. Members want much more power to be given to local people. I was interested in a recent intervention in the debate because my memory goes back to the 1970s and 1980s and to the old local district health authorities, which in some cases were extremely efficient. They had elected members in that a proportion of their members were councillors. I welcome devolution and the Secretary of State's suggestion that the number of foundation hospitals could increase dramatically in the future. However, the one good point about the policy does not disarm my criticisms.
My first and biggest criticism is the one that has been so ably expressed by Mr. Dobson and which was addressed yesterday by Mrs. Dunwoody. I am referring to the two-tier system. My memory of the NHS does not go back to 1948 but it does go back to 1956, when I was training in London, half a mile from here, and we still had many patients coming to London from far afield. There was then a gradual change as medical schools throughout the rest of the country improved tremendously, and the quality of district general hospitals improved.
That happened because the basic tenet of the NHS is that all staff should be on the same pay scale. That means that it is attractive for a high-powered senior registrar from a teaching hospital to apply to a district general hospital if that is where he wants to work. Parity of staff through parity of pay is crucial to fighting for, and maintaining, equality throughout the health service. That point also applies to managers and more and more to nurses, particularly given the proposed extension of their role. That is my first and biggest criticism.
I find it hard to understand one section in the Government's document. Paragraph 1.13 refers to
Xinspection to guard against two-tier health care."
I would very much like clarification of that when the Minister replies to the debate.
My next criticism relates to the method of selection. If the policy is implemented and if, as one hopes, the range of foundation hospitals increases over time, their method of selection will be less important. However, as other hon. Members have pointed out, basing selection on the star-rating system would have serious flaws. The star-rating system depends on just a number of key targets, and, as far as I can see, patient opinion points have been disregarded. There are six such points in the ratings, and the no-star trusts scored from seven out of 30 at the lowest to 24 out of 30 at the highest. That covers a wide range. The three lowest of the three-star trusts on the crucial points of patient understanding and perception scored nine out of 30, 10 out of 30 and 11 out of 30. That sums up why I do not have much confidence in the current star-rating system. I hope that the Commission for Health Improvement, under its new name, will be able to improve the value of the ratings considerably.
My next criticism is that the proposal risks a tremendously damaging split between primary and secondary care, which one would like to come together much more. I note that a representative of the primary care trust will be on the board of governors, and I welcome that. It is a small improvement on the current position in which there does not appear to be any cross-representation between primary care trusts and acute trust boards. I hope that such representation can be increased, because certain conditions, which are not mentioned in the document, depend on better management across the whole system. In particular, I refer to chronic care and to palliative care, which involve a partnership between secondary and primary care.
My next criticism refers to the services to be provided. Paragraph 1.30 on page 11 of the document is obviously fairly vague about that. It states:
XThe licence for an NHS Foundation Trust will detail . . . the clinical services which it must provide to the local community".
That is as far as it goes. The document is full of the aim of focusing on outputs. It is relatively easy to have outputs for elective work, but it is far more difficult to have them for emergency work. Emergency work is not mentioned sufficiently in the document. The work of a trust is covered by the blanket phrase,
Xthe clinical services that it must provide to the local community".
It is easy to run elective services, but not easy to run emergency services. Is there the risk that foundation hospitals will be able to cherry-pick? I can imagine the scene in a big town in which there is a foundation hospital that picks up all the elective work and leaves the neighbouring and probably second-class district general hospital with all the emergency work. I am fully in favour of the separation of elective and emergency work provided that it is done in partnership. If elective work is done entirely in a foundation hospital that is not in partnership with anyone else and that does not provide emergency services, the surgeons, in particular, will be deskilled when it comes to working with emergencies. That is my string of criticisms of the foundation trust idea in its present form. I hope that the Minister will respond to some of them.
Dr. Fox said that the NHS will not work if it continues to be constructed and run in the same way. I have a severe criticism of the Tory party. The way in which the NHS runs stems from the internal market and the purchaser-provider split that it introduced. That was one of the big disasters for the health service. However, I support the Tories in one way. As an independent Member without party allegiance, I am getting fed up with Labour Members' continual attacks on the Tory party purely and simply on the matter of money for public services. Labour Members hide behind the criticism rather than answering questions. There was an example of that in Prime Minister's questions today. An hon. Member asked a legitimate question about the disastrous services in parts of Worcestershire, but the concerns were not addressed.
I finish with an appeal. I agree that freedom for local people to run their services is crucial. I want the integration of primary and secondary care. Most of all, however, I appeal for the retention of common pay scales because otherwise we will have a two-tier system.
For Labour Members, the NHS is especially important as an ideal. It is an expression of our values and an enduring legacy of the reforming and modernising Attlee Government. We are very proud of that period and will always state that in the House. The idea that something as vital as health provision should be available equally to all fellow citizens on the basis of need, not on the basis of wealth or power, is central to social democracy. For my generation, the operation of the national health service represented social democracy in action. I was four when the NHS was created. [Hon. Members: XSurely not!"] Hon. Members are right: I agree that I do not look that old.
Absolutely. I say it only as it is.
The creation of the NHS was a joy in my family and a joy to the community in which we lived. I am absolutely committed to the NHS, but I am also keen to stress that we must be careful not to mistake a legacy for a monument. There is a crucial difference between them. A monument is a fixed and unchangeable moment in a country's life, important though it may be. A legacy offers us the opportunity to innovate, develop, refresh and reinvigorate. The NHS is a legacy that will always require a high level of reinvigoration and refreshing. It needs new ideas. I do not believe, as many hon. Members do, that there have been enough changes in the NHS. Like all other services that respond to an ever changing community and society, the NHS will always have to change so that it increases its capability of serving people. That is my starting point.
I believe strongly that that process of change will require substantial funding, but although I believe equally strongly that my Government have provided that funding, it is clear that many reforms remain to be achieved. There is a culture of management and control, of delivery of health or illness, and that culture is highly resistant to change. It is incumbent on all Members of Parliament on both sides of the House to persuade and encourage that change to take place.
In that context, I regard foundation hospitals as an important part of a changing approach to the ever-changing needs of our communities. Change must come in response to the problems. Many people say that our health service is good, but it could be better. My belief is that there is no one reform on which we can hang our coat, but many reforms. Foundation hospitals are one part of an enormously complex policy that will be discussed throughout this Parliament. The foundation hospitals policy is valuable, because it will achieve for local hospitals freedom from central direction in the management of their affairs.
Foundation hospitals will be subject to a considerable degree of local accountability. I was unhappy—albeit not surprised—to hear the Opposition health spokesman pour cynicism on the idea of local accountability. The hon. Gentleman misunderstands and underestimates the value of owning a problem. Invariably, those who have ownership of a problem are the ones who drive the solution. Ownership and management of illness, and being central to deciding what change is needed, is important in terms of educative capability and sharing of responsibility. I believe it also ensures good policy.
I strongly support involving local people in the management of hospitals. That is crucial, and I cannot understand why it has not been seen as part of our approach to hospitals in the past. My hon. Friend Mr. Martlew said that councils used to make nominations to local boards. As one of those who were nominated, I can tell him that we were invariably controlled by the consultants who sat on the hospital board. We had no real power. I hope that ordinary local people will have real power under these proposals, because that is what is required.
Whatever Opposition Members say, there is widespread recognition of the fact that the NHS—
The hon. Lady talks about local accountability. Does she not agree that, in reality, the issue is not simply governance arrangements that involve local people, but the degree of freedom—the power of which she speaks—to change services, develop services and introduce flexible services according to local decisions? Can she tell me where those freedoms are? I have looked hard for them. Which freedoms does she think local people will have, independent of the regulator, the commission, and the Secretary of State and all his data requirements?
That is an important intervention and I shall do as the hon. Gentleman asks.
I have spoken with the chief executive of my local trust. I thought it was important to do so, because although many of us here would argue in favour of the proposals from a position of principle, I wanted to know how those who will—or might—deliver the policy felt. She told me that discussions had taken place between trust board members, staff and medics, but that no decision had been taken. I want to make that clear. I would not want anyone to believe that a decision has been taken in respect of the North Tees university hospital; it has not.
The chief executive told me that a number of concerns had been raised, but that, to date, a number of opportunities had been outlined and identified as well. Medics—doctors and other members of staff—said that they would value a formal structure of involvement with local people. They believe that that would persuasively change the environment for the management of illness, and establish an open relationship in which difficult questions about new procedures and services could be discussed in a quiet and controlled environment, as opposed to being exposed in a newspaper, which makes people more likely take sides. They believe that there would be a balanced relationship between professionals and people in the community, and that once people understood and accepted the problems, their dynamism and involvement would support achievement.
The chief executive said to me that she had a space problem—a buildings problem—and that investment from capital would be valuable to her. She knows what the local needs are and how she can deliver the services, but she needs capital to do that.
One can be cynical about what that chief executive is saying, or one can choose not to be. I happen to want to believe what she, the trade unionists, the medics and the other staff are saying. They have achieved three-star status and, starting from a very difficult position in 1997, an excellent hospital has developed. The chief executive believes that the best could now lead the rest, and I support that statement. I hope that I have answered the question asked by Mr. Lansley. I have used what the chief executive of North Tees university hospital said to try to persuade him—although I rather doubt whether I have done so.
My concern is that the innovation of establishing a foundation hospital could be seen as a way of opening the door to privatisation. Again and again the concern has been expressed that more private operators will move in and the service will be less and less nationally owned and delivered. However, unless I am reading the information that has been given to us to date incorrectly, and am not hearing correctly what the Minister says, I am right in saying that according to the papers, new foundation trusts cannot be taken out of the public service. Indeed, there will be a legal lock on their assets to protect national health foundation trusts from the sort of demutualisation that has taken place in the building society sector. That reassures me, but I would still like to hear again from the Minister the assurance that foundation trusts will remain for all time within the public sector, owned by the local staff and local people who comprise the membership community.
The concept of a membership community—the idea of local accountability—is perfectly compatible with social democracy. The old state system was only ever one model of social democracy, and arguably it came to predominance in the Labour party only as a result of the experience of the first world war. Other models have always existed and have always been attractive. Municipalisation, co-operatives and foundations all bring accountability closer to people. That model, with its ability to shepherd, to change and to help a service evolve, should be embraced by all of us.
I recognise the dangers. We have all heard clearly what my right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson has said. He was right to warn us that the middle classes have sharp elbows, and we know that the middle classes are more able to work systems, especially health and education systems, than those in the poorer socio-economic groups who often need the services more. I am looking for assurances from the Secretary of State that the elected bodies will not be socially self-selecting.
There is also a fear that the introduction of foundation hospitals will introduce a two-tier system. My local hospital, North Tees university hospital, was definitely a second-tier hospital in 1997, but our investment in it has made it a first-tier hospital. I would like every hospital in the country to adopt the same structure of control and service delivery. None of us wants to duck such concerns—the problem is not the status or names of hospitals, but the shortage of doctors and medical specialists, about whom which we have legitimate worries. Staff shortages are the problem, not changes in hospital structure, which could be positive, innovative and valuable to our communities.
There are also concerns that a two-tier system could be introduced because foundation hospitals have capital borrowing rights. I am seeking assurances that that will not be so. I have read statements by the Secretary of State and the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the funding of foundation and non-foundation hospitals will not become imbalanced. I want reassurance about that. We have all heard worries expressed in the Chamber, and none of us wants any hospital to receive less financial support.
The one critical question that we must answer is: XAre we delivering the best health service to all people all the time?" While we are delivering the best health service to many people much of the time, some people are left outside. While finance and investment are crucial, it is important to acknowledge that other reforms need to be made so that we can achieve the best for everyone at all times.
To conclude, involving staff and local people in the management of hospitals is appropriate, as is freeing up the delivery of service so that it can respond to local needs. We must encourage local innovation and regard doctors and medics as natural entrepreneurs, which many of them are, and give them the opportunity to explore and develop service in their own way. I believe that foundation hospitals will achieve various changes and reforms, and we will see a refreshed and reinvigorated legacy in the NHS which will command public support.
The Liberal Democrats have been engaged in a lengthy and detailed internal debate and consultation about the future of the public services since just after the 2001 general election. Our membership debated and voted on the policy paper, XQuality, Innovation, Choice" last September, and I was concerned to hear that the Secretary of State and others have not read it—they would find it a very good read indeed. Many recommendations made by Labour Back Benchers and Conservative Members today can be found within it, so I commend it to the House. It was overwhelmingly passed by our membership and starts:
XPublic services in this country do not deliver the high standard of service that people expect and deserve. They also fail by comparison with services in many of our European partners."
It gives four main reasons—a lack of guaranteed long-term funding; lack of access and choice about services; Whitehall making decisions that can best be made locally; and politicians interfering for political purposes in decisions that should be made by trained professionals.
Liberal Democrats believe that the Government's proposals for foundation hospitals must be measured against those problems, which are at the core of frustrations shared by the public and professionals alike. Before anyone claims that I am anti-health service or the people who work for it, may I say that I am profoundly pro-NHS—I was one of the first babies born in the health service? I pay tribute to the part of the health service that my family needed over the Christmas holiday. On Christmas eve, my daughter mentioned that she could not see properly. Our local optician, Harry Cooke, saw her within minutes and spent more than an hour with her. He referred her to an eye clinic at Stepping Hill hospital in Stockport, where she was seen later that day. She was admitted to the Manchester royal eye hospital on Boxing day and had her retina repaired early the next morning. I cannot speak too highly of the excellence of the care at every stage, the quality of the explanations, the nursing staff and their care, the cleanliness of the hospital, and the aftercare, which is ongoing.
The Liberal Democrats are fully committed to the national health service. Sadly, the streamlined emergency approach that we experienced is not available for all serious conditions everywhere, as numbers of my constituents tell me regularly, as we heard from Mr. Page, and as the House will hear in the Adjournment debate this evening.
Will the Government's proposals for foundation hospitals make the difference and produce the sort of highly motivated care that we received? I think not, for they fail to address the issues that the Liberal Democrats believe are central to the problems faced by the NHS. As my hon. Friend Dr. Harris said, we want a decentralised health service where decisions are made at local level, with a guaranteed income and local accountability. We would give all hospitals the opportunity to become public benefit organisations if they wished—a bottom-up approach, rather than the top-down approach of the Government's proposals. Sadly, the Government's proposals do not go far enough and continue the authoritarian Whitehall-knows-best attitude that we have come to expect, particularly from the Department of Health.
The Liberal Democrats will guarantee funding for the health service and hospitals for the long term and make it work. We will do that by earmarking national insurance for the national health service as the people's NHS contribution. We would improve choice, quality and access to health services. There should be greater accountability and transparency, and a diversity of options for provision to put maximum pressure on regional and local politicians and public service managers to deliver efficiently.
Mr. Hinchliffe mentioned that the health and social care services need to come together at local level, operating from the same budget. We would support that. We need local people to make decisions about local matters.
Can the hon. Lady explain an apparent paradox in her remarks? She speaks of guaranteed funding for the NHS as a Liberal Democrat policy, yet she says that that would be hypothecated from national insurance revenues. However, national insurance revenues are not guaranteed for the next 20 or 25 years. They can vary according to economic circumstances. How does the hon. Lady reconcile those two things?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. National insurance contributions are less likely to be a roller-coaster than the roller-coaster produced by politically induced funding. I strongly recommend that he read our document, which sets out the full reasons. He should check the figures.
We want democratically accountable regions to take strategic decisions at regional level, and local authorities and local communities to be involved in the governance of hospitals and PCTs, as the hon. Member for Wakefield described. Whitehall's role should be limited to information gathering, dissemination and persuasion. There needs to be a simplified, comprehensive and authoritative system of inspection that puts the focus on meaningful information for users, voters and local policymakers. We would stop Government interference by limiting their role to functions including public health, regulation, medical research and medical, nursing and other professional training, and allow front-line doctors and nurses to take front-line responsibility. To ensure value for money, we need to make service providers and commissioners locally accountable.
Labour's health service has become a bit of a dog's breakfast of pilots, trials, centrally driven targets, discredited star-rating systems, staff driven to distraction by bureaucracy and patchy provision. I fear that the proposals that the Government are making for foundation hospitals will fail to deliver the service improvements that we need everywhere. Only the Liberal Democrat proposals will set clinicians free everywhere to drive the change forward and place a proper emphasis on prevention in public health measures.
Yesterday, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, Ms Blears, in winding up the Westminster Hall debate on foundation hospitals, asked the rhetorical question of whether the reform was coming at the right time. I do not think that any hon. Member is saying that reform is not necessary. The question should have been whether it is the right reform. Before I saw the detail of XA Guide to NHS Foundation Trusts", I thought that the Secretary of State had at last seen the light, was interested and wanted devolution. However, the proposals do not go nearly as far as they should.
The Government's proposals are distinctly unclear, as several hon. Members have pointed out, in a number of areas. What will the freedoms be? How could tariff setting and payment by results work? Will they not produce a distortion of clinical practice in which high value-added, fast-throughput operations and so on are likely to be carried out at the expense of rather slower results, patient time and money? Why should there be only a few foundation hospitals? Hon. Members in all parts of the House have said that they do not understand why foundation hospitals cannot be made available to everybody if they are such a good thing.
The Liberal Democrats are very concerned about the concept of the electorate and who they will be. We believe that it is perfectly possible that the electorate will end up as a very small self-selected group. I echo what Mr. Redwood said in his eloquent remarks about the need for a broad electorate and not allowing a takeover by a small, self-selected group. Dr. Taylor said that the only good thing about the proposals was devolution. That is certainly the case, but as I said, it has not gone far enough.
The ability of some hospitals to pay staff more on the basis that they are foundation hospitals will lead to poaching and inequalities, and will definitely lead to a two-tier system.
My hon. Friend said that he endorsed much of what the hon. Lady has said in the past, but does he agree with her comment just now that foundation hospitals would be freer to pay at local rates? Does he agree that trusts have had that power to negotiate local pay for more than a decade, but only a handful have done so, and that some of those have backed off because of the difficulties? Was that not a flaw in her otherwise quite good speech?
I thank the hon. Lady, but I shall now get on with my speech.
An altogether more important document than the Liberal Democrat health paper is XA Guide to NHS Foundation Trusts", which was published shortly before Christmas. Having read that document, I find the Conservative party's motion more than a little surprising. Do the Conservatives really now support the creation of a community ownership mechanism in the NHS that will rule out future privatisation and the selling off of assets, unless the members of that new society vote for it? Is that what Conservative Members are saying? Do they also really support local communities owning and controlling their health services? Finally, do they also support NHS staff—porters, cleaners, nurses, the entire hospital staff—being voting members of the organisation in which they work, and being able to influence its policy and leadership? That is precisely what that document proposes.
If the Conservatives do support those things, I suggest that we are witnessing something of a Damascene conversion on the Conservative Front Bench to some of the oldest principles of the Labour movement, namely community and mutual ownership. I do not know whether there is an ulterior motive here—there often is with the Conservative party. Perhaps Mr. Burns, who is shaking his head, is seeking sponsorship from the Co-operative party. Perhaps he is not doing that, however, and perhaps the Conservatives' support for these measures is misplaced, because I do not think that they truly understand the full impact of what is being proposed by the Secretary of State.
As a member of the Co-operative party and a strong believer in the virtues of community ownership, I genuinely believe that these reforms have the potential to be among the most revitalising ever introduced in the NHS. Members of our party are proud that we founded the NHS, a point made by my hon. Friend Mr. Hinchliffe. Many members of our party have long complained about the democratic deficit in the NHS, although they love almost everything else about it. They are absolutely right to complain about that. The NHS's lack of accountability and responsiveness to public and patients has always been its Achilles' heel. Because of the way in which the NHS is structured, NHS bodies have always looked up to Whitehall for accountability, rather than downwards to patients and the wider public. The result is that, even today, there persists in parts of the NHS a like-it-or-lump-it culture in the services that are provided to people.
At the creation of the NHS, Bevan trumpeted as one of its chief benefits Whitehall's ability to monitor dropped bedpans. That has now become one of its main weaknesses. It was right in its day, because of the chaotic nature of pre-war health care. That control was necessary in those days, but today it is more and more of a problem. All of us hear that health professionals are finding things more and more difficult, and that they want more local flexibility. As a party, we have to respond to that.
People who can remember pre-NHS health care put up with the like-it-or-lump-it aspect of the national health service, because it is infinitely better than what they had before. My hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh mentioned people in their early 30s. I am happy to confirm that I turned 33 yesterday, so I can probably scrape into that group. People of my generation will certainly not have the same forbearance towards the NHS as the generations before them. For the NHS to survive and thrive in a consumer society, it needs to get better at customer care.
The NHS also needs to get better at listening to local opinion. Ever since it was established, there have been countless examples in all parts of the country—dare I say it, in every constituency represented in the House—of proposed changes in service provision being fiercely resisted by local communities. My colleague, Dr. Taylor—a fellow member of the Select Committee on Health—is perhaps a living embodiment and constant reminder of the NHS's failure to listen and to involve the community in the way in which health services are delivered. Dare I say that the NHS has not always got it right when it has proposed service change, and that, on occasion, perhaps the community has been right instead?
These reforms are radical for the simple reason that they invert the traditional power relationship that has hitherto existed in the NHS. If the proposals in the document finally become legislation, and if assets are genuinely transferred to democratic mutual organisations, the members of those organisations will overnight become more important to trust managers than Ministers are now. That has to be a good thing. To me, that is the key argument for the Government's proposals. It is vital that that ownership and that democratic control be not token but genuine mechanisms that the local community can use.
That key test was rightly highlighted by Mr. Dorrell. He was wrong, however, about the recreation of the NHS internal market and the proposals being an attempt to recreate the Conservatives' NHS trusts policy. The issue needs to be carefully considered, and we must think about how the introduction of foundation trusts will affect health care provision and whether it will lead to a two-tier service.
The difference between these proposals and those described by the right hon. Gentleman is the question of GP fundholding. The reforms introduced by the Conservative party were pernicious, because how quickly people received treatment was decided on an entirely arbitrary basis. That point was extremely well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield. What counted when people were admitted to hospital was whether they were patients of fundholding or non-fundholding GPs. Access to treatment was determined not by clinical need, but by the negotiating power of the purchaser. That was entirely wrong, and I see no evidence to suggest that any of it is being recreated by the proposals before us.
People claim that the proposals will create a two-tier NHS, but they fail properly to realise that, even today, the NHS is multi-tiered. The quality of service offered by different NHS providers varies widely from trust to trust, but under the current system there is little that patients can do if they live in an area where the trust is underperforming.
As well as offering local, democratic control, the reforms are about creating a much needed improvement mechanism and a culture of improvement in the NHS. I do not see why our party should be opposed to allowing the good to get better or why we should have any ideological problem with that. What really counts is that we help those who need to improve most to reach a level that we would consider acceptable. That is the explicit aim of the policy—allow the good ones to get on with the job that they are doing and give more targeted help to the ones who need it.
Has the hon. Gentleman considered the possibility of extending foundation hospital trust status to hospitals that do not have three stars? I put that point to Siobhain McDonagh, as it may be a way to improve the performance of hospitals with two or fewer stars.
That is a reasonable point. My guess is that the Government are starting with three-star hospitals because the initiative is taking the form of a pilot. Such hospitals are perhaps best placed to go forward with what is, effectively, a new structure. Wigan and Leigh NHS trust in my constituency has two stars and I would very much like it to be able to graduate towards foundation status in due course. I hear the point that the hon. Gentleman makes.
With all respect to my right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson, I do not see how the policy is being introduced at the expense of the rest. I do not see that it will take anything from the rest. In fact, all it will do is create a system under which they may aspire to do something that they do not do at the moment. I do not see how it will impoverish them in any way.
My main concern echoes the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield—I agree fundamentally with a lot of what he said. Welcome changes have been made in the NHS with the creation of primary care trusts and a shift of resources to community level, but I have a small concern that those changes will reassert the primacy of the acute trust in the local health economy. That would risk undoing some welcome progress that has been made in this regard. I wholeheartedly endorse the principle that more and more of the NHS cake should be spent at community and primary care level.
Some—including, I believe, the NHS Confederation—have suggested that foundation status might be applied to a local health system and not just the acute trusts. There is something in that idea that might be worth investigating. Will the Minister touch on that in his remarks?
I want to comment on the rise of mutualism not just in the NHS, but in social policy generally. We have heard a lot of talk in the past few years about the search for a third way, but I strongly believe that community and mutual ownership is the closest that people can ever get to that. We are seeing a welcome revival in the co-operative sector, for the simple reason that it offers solutions to some of today's social problems. I am thinking in particular of estates, for which crucial public services are simply not provided sufficiently well by current providers. Mutual solutions can offer an answer to these gaps in the market.
One example is nursing homes. Conservative Front Benchers go on at great length about nursing home capacity and the quality of care in nursing homes. The option introduced by the Conservatives failed local communities, and the previous system was not particularly good either. The Conservative option failed because it allowed a private nursing home, on which a community can be dependent, to up sticks at will and go, leaving that community high and dry. The lack of sufficient safeguards to maintain the service within a community was a real flaw in the changes introduced by the Conservatives in the early 1990s. The nursing care sector is crying out for a mutual solution whereby people become members of a scheme that they pay into, and which will look after them in old age. Perhaps the Minister and the Government should look into that.
If we get right the planned reforms in respect of foundation hospitals, they could set an exciting precedent in the introduction of community involvement and ownership across the public sector. I chair an organisation called Supporters Direct, which was set up by the Government to promote supporter and community ownership of football clubs. Its aim is simply to help supporters' groups to set up mutual trusts as a vehicle for raising funds, purchasing shares and gaining influence in the clubs that they love. To date, it has helped to set up more than 70 supporters' trusts in England and Scotland, the vast majority of which are mutual societies and industrial and provident societies. They have a range of influences; some have a very small shareholding in a club, others own a club—I am thinking of Lincoln City and Chesterfield—outright.
As hon. Members know, I always try to get the conversation on to football as quickly as I can, but there is a genuine parallel to be drawn here. Football clubs and hospitals are linked. People feel emotional about them; they are a source of civic pride and civic identity. People care about them, and they want to see them thrive and improve. People wring their hands about declining participation in the democratic process, but at launch meetings for supporters' trusts, some 800 to 1,000 people—including young people—are engaged in a community endeavour. I see no reason why that enthusiasm cannot be introduced to the NHS and the provision of hospitals and health services. People would like more involvement in the way that their services are provided.
This must not be a token, paper exercise whereby someone has a vote in a mutual society but they never use it; it must be a genuine, democratic process. I agree with the Secretary of State that people need to opt into the process of becoming a member of a trust; simply giving them membership is not enough. Mutual societies work when there is a groundswell of emotion, and people want to do something about a service that they care about. I urge the Government to keep that principle as part of the forthcoming legislation. I also ask them to look at the industrial and provident society ownership model as a way forward for foundation hospitals. It is a truly democratic, transparent and accountable system, and an excellent vehicle that could be applied to foundation hospitals.
I understand Members' reservations about this policy, and a whippersnapper like me would do well to listen to the likes of my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield and my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras. Their concerns are genuine and need to be thought through, but they should not stand in the way of a potentially exciting reform and a new era for the national health service.
I appreciated the speech by Andy Burnham, who was going well until he got onto football. I want to use as my starting point the speech made by Ms Taylor, who was kind enough to allow me to intervene on her. She and I both have a three-star hospital in our constituencies: in fact, I have two—Addenbrooke's and Papworth, one a teaching hospital, the other a specialist trust.
I gathered from her speech that the hon. Member for Stockton, South will encourage the University hospital of North Tees to seek foundation hospital status, and I shall encourage Addenbrooke's to do the same. I spoke to that hospital's new chief executive on Monday, and I want to use my speech to influence the Government's policy, as I want Addenbrooke's to have the freedoms that go with foundation status. I want it to be able to respond more effectively to the demands and needs of NHS patients. However, unlike the hon. Lady, I do not believe that the policy has been developed to the point where hospitals have the sort of freedoms that they should have in an NHS that is going to meet patient need.
Addenbrooke's has expressed a broad commitment to apply for foundation status. It wants to expand community engagement and take further its already excellent relationships with local people. Although foundation status will offer local people the chance to engage in hospital governance, I believe that the hospital could achieve much of what is intended to be achieved by means of foundation status without actually securing that status. However, if that is what is required, that is fine.
The Minister of State, Mr. Hutton, is on the Front Bench at present, and he and I have debated elsewhere the Xagenda for change" proposals in the NHS. I want to help Addenbrooke's hospital in its aim of accelerating that rate of change, and to that end I shall focus on two important matters—real local accountability, and freedom and financial flexibility.
I listened with care to the speech by Mr. Dobson. He asked what was wrong with the current system that required the introduction of foundation hospital status. I shall give an example of the way in which the present system is not delivering. Addenbrooke's is a highly successful teaching hospital with an international reputation, and also a district general hospital to which doctors want to refer patients. To be most efficient in operational terms, bed occupancy should be between 82 and 85 per cent., but it is currently running at 98 per cent.
The NHS has rising real resources and rising demand, but constrained supply. That is where the system needs to be changed. We need greater productivity and efficiency from the capacity that exists in the NHS, and we must ensure that increases in capacity respond more effectively to patient demands, as expressed through patients' relationships with clinicians.
I turn now to the issues of local accountability and of freedom and financial flexibility. I am worried that local accountability will remain limited in two respects. First, the Government say that the centre will give up control to people in local areas. The Secretary of State was careful to talk about control from Whitehall, but control does not have to be traceable to Richmond house to qualify as central control. The independent regulator will still be a central control over the activities of foundation hospitals. The proposed Commission for Health Care Audit and Inspection will be a form of central control. As the NHS Confederation has pointed out, the data collection requirements will also be a form of central control. The purchasing relationship with primary care trusts and other commissioners, in so far as they are subject to NHS central guidance, is a form of central control.
All these forms of central control will, in their way, limit local accountability. Only to the extent that those controls can be progressively reduced over time in response to the increasing standards of the NHS foundation hospitals, as one would hope to expect, would one achieve the local accountability that matters.
The second problem with local accountability is structural, and it brings me back to PCTs and purchasing. My right hon. Friend Mr. Dorrell made the point that if we want to allow local people to change the shape of services and develop innovative, enhanced services in the way that they wish, the most immediate and direct way to do that is to give them more effective control over primary care trusts, because they are the commissioners of services. The implication of the question of the hon. Member for Leigh about foundation status for a locality is in effect that locality commissioning, which was provided for in the legislation before the 1997 election, is a means by which, if local people are involved sufficiently effectively, services that respond to local needs can be delivered.
The other means of delivering such services is to respond to patient choice. It will not surprise right hon. and hon. Members to know that that is the way I wish to go. Instead of setting up a bureaucratic mechanism for providing local interpretation of patient needs, we should allow patients to do that more directly through the reintroduction and extension of patient choice. That is where I think, structurally speaking, there is a large lacuna in the philosophy underlying foundation status.
On freedoms and financial flexibility, Addenbrooke's quite rightly pointed in its document to the opportunity to retain proceeds from asset disposals, to retain any operating surpluses and to access capital from public and private sector sources. That reflects the language of the Government's document published in early December. However, retaining proceeds from asset disposals is an interesting concept for a hospital that is on a constrained site where every bit of land should be used for a medical or biomedical purpose and considering that the Government put a lock on assets so that they cannot be disposed of. Quite what freedom that means for Addenbrooke's, I do not know.
Retaining any operating surpluses is a curious concept. Under the current financial system, although the work load at Addenbrooke's has risen dramatically and it is operating at capacity, it is still running operating deficits. Perhaps the so-called payment by results system and money following the patient will deliver operating surpluses. If so, that is a worthwhile benefit. However, the borrowing proposal is not as obvious a benefit as it looks. My interpretation is that undertaking a private finance initiative investment project with a 25-year profile of repayments and involving the private sector may mean that a five or seven-year long-term agreement with a primary care trust will not suffice for the private sector investor's purposes. That investor will still require the Secretary of State's guarantee in some form. Perhaps a letter of comfort will be provided whenever the foundation hospital receives the assent of the independent regulator to forward business plans. None the less, the money on offer is still essentially public sector underwritten investment for the future and the foundation hospital will be locked into it.
The financial freedoms do not seem as great as they should be unless the revenue—and this is where borrowing is intended to be secured—is sufficiently responsive to the performance and capacity growth of the foundation hospital. If a foundation hospital improves its efficiency, it ought to be able to attract additional activity. If it improves its quality, it ought to be able to attract an additional premium on its price. I do not want to introduce a dogmatic, ideological note but I am worried that, because the Government rail against the so-called internal market, they have, as a matter of ideological conviction, decided that there should be a national tariff with regional variation. In effect, that means that commissioning can only be undertaken on the basis of cost and volume with no discount for efficiency or premium for quality.
I am taking careful note of my hon. Friend's structured arguments. Has he considered the possibility of money following the patient? If that does not happen, a successful foundation hospital could suck in patients from elsewhere because it provides services that are not offered by other hospitals. Will foundation hospitals have to use the same financial cake to provide more services to a greater number of patients?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. His point is exact: money ought to follow patients. That is how the system should work. But how much money should there be for each case? The Government's proposals for payments by results ought to work in that direction, but if they are allied to a national tariff that is, in effect, dictated from the centre, even with regional variations, that will remove any possibility that spare NHS capacity can take up the slack, because of pricing at the margin, or that hospitals, such as Addenbrooke's, which can provide additional quality, can meet the cost of providing additional capacity because of the premium they can attract. Such hospitals could demonstrate to the private sector—like a business—that their advantaged position in the general ecology of health care would allow them to secure demand for the foreseeable future. They would not base their case on the Secretary of State's guarantee, but on their own performance, quality and ability to attract patients.
The two essential problems are that if local accountability is not reflected in patient choice and if price cannot also reflect some of the changes in efficiency and quality advantage that foundation hospitals are able to make, the hospitals will not be able to exercise those freedoms to provide both additional capacity and innovative and improving services.
I am in favour of foundation hospitals and share with my colleagues the desire that they should not only start with hospitals with three-star status, such as Addenbrooke's, which received three stars in both the performance ratings that have been carried out, or Papworth. To jog back to the comments of Dr. Harris, I am not quite sure on what basis the Radcliffe did not receive its stars as it seems to be very similar to Addenbrooke's. Papworth has demonstrated a three-star performance, allied to a Commission for Health Improvement report that is as good as for any hospital in the country.
Those hospitals should lead the new system because they have the clinical and corporate governance that is more likely to deliver innovation and to influence policy in the right direction. However, their performance cannot influence the policy unless the basic structure of the policy is right. The structure needs to reflect patient choice and financial flexibility—including price—and it needs an independent regulator who not only focuses on high quality and standards but also has a duty to deliver increasing freedom to NHS institutions over time.
I welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate, which gives the House the chance to discuss the concept of foundation trusts as well as the future of the health service.
Both the motion and the amendment welcome the principle of NHS foundation trusts and hospitals. That might seem to be rare agreement between the Government and the Opposition, yet we know that there has never been a greater gap between the philosophies of the two main parties on the future of our universally available health service, free at the point of use.
The Conservatives have made it clear that they would reduce public spending and encourage private treatment, paid for by the individual patient or by private medical insurance subsidised by the taxpayer—[Interruption.] I think that they have made that clear. That would lead to two-tier health provision, in which those who have the money or the insurance cover would have easy access to treatment. Those who are less well off would have to take their turn in what would soon be seen as a second-class service. The Tories' belief that private health insurance is the right way forward is both immoral and flawed. Insurance companies, by their nature, are mainly interested in covering low risks. If one is young and fit, it is easy to insure oneself. If one is elderly or has a chronic disease, the cost of insurance is likely to be prohibitive, or the main chronic condition will be excluded from cover.
I am proud that the Labour party, which founded our national health service, is determined that the principles of a health service free at the point of use should continue. I welcome the changes that have been made over the past five years. The setting up of primary care trusts has brought decision making to a local level. At the same time, the establishment of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence has begun to address the problems of postcode prescribing. The Commission for Health Improvement is helping to raise standards within our health service, and the Labour Government have shown their commitment to the health service by making available an unprecedented level of extra investment, bringing in extra doctors, nurses and other health care staff.
For our health service to have public confidence, we need to be able to offer rapid treatment when it is needed. We need to look at innovative ways to reduce waiting lists and times, and I am pleased that the Queen's hospital in Burton was successful in being chosen as the site for a new #20 million diagnosis and treatment centre. That DTC will be developed alongside the new cancer and endoscopy unit, which is being funded both by Government and by local people through the Queen's hospital cancer appeal. I would like to pay tribute to everyone who has supported that appeal, which has raised nearly #1.5 million. There is already much good will for our local hospitals and for the NHS in general, not only from the general public who are always happy to support such appeals but in terms of the amount of volunteering activity that enhances the well-being of patients. Dozens of my constituents are involved in helping to make the stay of patients in the Queen's hospital more bearable. Nor must we forget the paid staff of the health service: doctors, nurses and all hospital staff work under tremendous pressure, and we should always make sure that they know that they are greatly valued.
Change is not new to the NHS. In the past 20 years, we first saw the health authorities that directly ran the services in their area reduced in size. In my area, the Staffordshire health service was broken up into three health authorities in the early 1980s. As other hon. Members have mentioned, that was a time when local councillors were nominated to serve on those health bodies, and I served on the south-east Staffordshire health authority at that time. In the early 1990s, health providers were separated from health authorities and trusts were formed, and the internal market was created with its associated divisiveness. I am pleased that the Labour Government dispensed with that internal market and looked to health trusts and providers to co-operate and to spread best practice. I do not wish that co-operation to be jeopardised by the creation of foundation trusts, although I would support greater democracy for all our NHS trusts.
Although my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State provided some reassurances, I am concerned that foundation hospitals may prove to be divisive, creating a two-tier system in which some hospitals, able to pay higher salaries, could poach staff and, ultimately, patients from other hospitals. While we should not follow a pattern of rewarding failure in our NHS by bailing out inefficient trusts, neither should we abandon health providers, as they need the expertise to reform and improve. If the creation of foundation hospitals increases the divide between providers and causes hospitals to close, local people will lose out.
The proposal in the Conservative motion that all trusts should be allowed to bid for foundation status is not practical because it is clear that trusts that are struggling would not be able to go it alone. I am concerned that those trusts with a three-star rating, which will be eligible to become foundation hospitals, may not always remain of three-star quality. If their star rating falls, how will help be given to independent foundation trusts?
Foundation hospitals will not produce more trained staff; only the Government's investment will do that. We need to give that investment and the changes that we have introduced time to bring about the improvements that all Labour Members want. The Secretary of State talked of the progress that has already been made. The NHS should be allowed a period without the further change that foundation trusts would bring. I hope that Ministers will consider delaying the proposals so that there can be further consideration and consolidation.
As the debate has made clear, Conservative Members welcome the principle of foundation hospitals. I rise to support the motion in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends. We support that principle because it would give control to individual hospitals, and I reject the remarks of Ms Taylor, who is no longer in her seat, who was attempting to say otherwise.
The Conservatives' philosophy is dramatically different from that of the Government. The Labour party appears to have borrowed our language, and it has not delivered the substance. It recognises what needs to be done but fails to implement a policy that will deliver on that aim. In his announcement on
A non-executive member of a health authority told me that the
No one denies that extra money is going into the NHS, and that is good. However, there are two sides to the way in which the Government are raising taxes and then spending. How much one spends is not an indicator of how much one cares. In every other area Labour has raised taxes to increase public spending and imposed national targets with ever increasing interference and centralisation.
I remember in the previous Parliament a senior non-executive member of a health authority telling me that one Monday the authority received a call from on high—from Richmond house—saying that the Minister was demanding a certain amount of information for a meeting on the Friday. The health authority had to approach the Taunton and Somerset NHS Hospital Trust and demand the information that the Minister wanted. That meant that all Tuesday and Wednesday, the hospital's central management staff were involved in trying to compile that information. They delivered it to the health authority on Wednesday evening, as they had promised.
On Thursday morning, the health authority discussed how it would present those figures to the Minister at the meeting on Friday. On Thursday afternoon, the Minister's secretary rang up to cancel the meeting. For four days, Somerset's health authority ground to a halt because central interference meant that figures were demanded that the Minister ultimately did not want. We have heard too much of such interference by central Government, and it has continued.
By way of illustration of the way in which expenditure and quality are not necessarily related, I refer to the fact that the NHS is incurring hundreds of millions of pounds of expenditure as a consequence of the implementation of the working time directive. That will take place, first, for non-medical and then for medical staff. That does not deliver of itself any improvements in the service provided to patients, but it counts as NHS expenditure. If one were simply counting money, one would think that an increase in expenditure would lead to an increase in NHS standards, but it does not do that at all.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making such an important point. No doubt, in April, there will be a consequential rise in the health bill for hospitals and GP surgeries when they have to pay ever higher national insurance charges. It would be a shame for the Government to say that they were putting more money into the health service if that allowed the general population to gain the impression that greater health care was being delivered. That is patently not happening.
The Government see higher taxes and higher spending as a sort of social obligation or as a common morality of citizenship, as they call it. As the leader of the Conservative party, my right hon. Friend Mr. Duncan Smith wrote recently, Conservatives do not believe that the Government have a moral entitlement to other people's money. It is still their own, and the Government have only been entrusted with it. That is why any Government must spend that money wisely and why the Government will fail to meet their 2005 targets, as many of us, including Labour Members, will have read in today's Financial Times.
Careful stewardship is the key, and Conservative Members see that stewardship having a twin aim when it comes to reforming public services. We need not just to improve public services. My hon. Friend Dr. Fox rightly alluded to the fact that there has been a 20 per cent. increase in funding, but he did not go on to say that that funding has delivered only a 2 per cent. increase in the number of treatments. That means that much work needs to be done.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. In Scotland, there has been an even greater increase in public expenditure on the health service, but the service, as measured in waiting list terms, has deteriorated significantly irrespective of the amount of money going into it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am also told that the situation is not much better in Wales. It is lamentable that there are 25,000 more administrators in the NHS than there are now beds in the system—225,000 administrators as opposed to not quite 200,000 beds. That is a particular shame.We need to cut the enormous waste that currently occurs in the NHS so that individuals and families can choose where they spend their money. That point applies not to the NHS but to other Departments of state.
In retrospect, I suppose we should welcome an attempt to mimic Tory philosophy with this attempt to create foundation hospitals. Labour Members have spoken much about co-operatives, and Andy Burnham spoke fondly about how keen he is on the notion of the co-operative societies and how they work. However, Conservative Members also see foundation hospitals as agreeing with our base philosophy.
The problem is that the Government do not fully understand the foundation hospitals that they are trying to introduce. They do not understand how to make hospitals locally accountable. From the prospectus that Ministers have published and from the Secretary of State's response to my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring, we do not know whether enough people will be willing to come forward to serve as members of the foundation trusts. Local elections are approaching and we all know that it is quite difficult to find enough local councillors to serve on local councils, and the Government have not yet told us how we will find enough suitably qualified to be members of the foundation trusts. What does Xlocal" mean? Does it depend on a travel-to-work basis, as is currently the case with people who work for local authorities? We do not yet know. Some 3,500 people work in Taunton's hospital and 50,000 people live in the town, but the hospital serves thousands of people beyond Taunton Deane.
I also represent part of West Somerset, which is a different local authority area. The local authority mainly looks to Minehead, but for its acute hospital services it very much looks to Taunton and, to some extent, Tiverton. Will people who live in Dulverton and Withypool in West Somerset look to serve on trusts in Tiverton or Taunton? We do not know. My hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring said that there is no acute hospital in Woodspring and everyone has to travel to Weston-super-Mare or Bristol. We have yet to find out what the Government think. I quite like the idea espoused by Mr. Colman that there should be a catchment area for membership of the foundation hospital trust.
The situation in Taunton is intriguing. The trust is well regarded by many local people. Taunton and Somerset hospital, commonly known as Musgrove Park, was built during the war. The old building, which still stands, has corridors wide enough for jeeps to go down because it was built by the American forces to look after expected casualties following the D-day landings. Fortunately, the hospital had massive infrastructure spends in the 1980s and the mid-1990s which to a large extent matched the population growth in the area. However, there has been a big lull since 1994. I am pleased that recently there has been much talk of spending tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money in upgrading the old building, which has structural problems and cannot deliver the needs of modern surgery as well as a new building. Parking is also a problem. Local people, especially the Member of Parliament, strongly welcome the planned investment to match the bigger and now growing population. A cancer unit is on its way. That is welcome but not before time. There is only a small Xp" promise of a tertiary cardio-thoracic unit. Somerset residents have been paying for those improvements for some time in ever-rising amounts of tax, but we still have not got that big XP" promise for the cardio-thoracic unit and the huge amount of spending that we need.
How does that relate to foundation hospitals? The Taunton and Somerset NHS Hospital Trust was awarded three stars in the original round when stars were given out, to some extent like confetti. Sadly, it now has only two stars. There are a number of reasons for that and the chief executive is confident that he can rectify the situation. The staff and all his management team are working on that. They consider the trust a rising two star because of their hard work and good management. However, that cannot detract from the fact that the star system is flawed, as Dr. Taylor explained so eloquently.
Where does that leave Taunton's fairly important hospital in the bigger scheme of things if it is trying to get that large infrastructure spend? Its increased needs and expected increased financing means that it must consider whether to go for foundation trust status as spelt out by the Government. A local senior NHS manager described going for foundation trust status as not dissimilar to Dumbo's magic ears. As far as he was concerned, setting up foundation hospitals would provide the same confidence that made Dumbo think that his ears could make him fly. To put it another way, he meant to say that the foundation trusts are not dissimilar to the original aims of the NHS trusts at the beginning of the 1990s, in which greater clarity and identity is given to the hospital and its local management capability so that there is more delegation, greater responsibility and sharper accountability to the taxpayers who fund it and the local people.
However, there are still too many unanswered questions on whether the hospital could go for foundation trust status and, at the same time, be hopeful that it will get all the money it needs, especially as it will not be in the first wave of hospitals to qualify because it has two stars.
We do not yet know whether the Secretary of State will guarantee any borrowing, or whether the Somerset and Dorset strategic health authority will do so if the hospital achieves foundation trust status. Perhaps the Taunton Deane primary care trust will do so. We do not know whether the private sector will lend to foundation hospitals. We know that the private finance initiative might work for the large building programme, but we do not know whether foundation hospitals will be acceptable to the City. How will the loans be treated in the national accounts? That is not especially relevant to the management of Taunton hospital, but it is relevant to the SHA and, in turn, to the Government.
There are other concerns about foundation hospitals. Taunton hospital has a well regarded private wing, Parkside. It is very small, accounting for only 1 per cent. of the hospital's total activity, and it has to compete with the nearby Nuffield hospital. According to the prospectus—the hastily drawn up plans for foundation hospitals—the licence to become a foundation hospital will restrict the number of private patients a trust can treat. Paragraph 3.16 states that the Government would be keen to see applications that propose to convert NHS facilities wholly used for paying patients. Is that the Government's real wish? We are not sure, but suspect that that is more likely to be mere spin, designed to assuage the concern of sceptics on the Labour Benches, who are, it seems, having to be asked not to speak in this debate.
Mr. Barber's paper, carefully leaked to today's Financial Times, states that No. 10 appears to be impatient at the speed with which the Secretary of State and the Department of Health are pursuing choice and diversity. Has the Department just come up with the concept of foundation hospitals, which was poorly thought through and rushed out on
It is always a great pleasure to me to take part in health debates—as one of the few medically qualified Members, I follow with interest issues surrounding health delivery—but I feel that we might be having the wrong debate this afternoon. When constituents visit my surgeries, write to me or send me an e-mail, it is normally to ask what the Government can do to continue to improve health services in the local hospital, or to ensure that there are more GPs in the area and that social services have adequate long-term care facilities for elderly relatives. It is unusual that someone raises issues about who runs the facilities, unless something goes wrong. Most of the time, people are content to see the health service develop and services improve. They are not worried about who is delivering the service—unless something goes radically wrong, in which case they become very interested indeed. If services continue to improve, they are generally happy.
I believe that the debate should focus on how we deliver health care in our society and how we get the best health gain for the money we put in. All hon. Members on both sides of the House have said that there has been a 20 per cent. real-terms increase in health spending in this country and that that is welcome. The important thing is to ensure that that money is spent to the best possible effect and that we get the best possible health delivery and health gain from it.
Broadly speaking, there are two ways in which that money can be used to improve health care. First, it can be used to improve delivery of services. There has been significant improvement in my local hospital, Darent Valley hospital in Dartford, which is part of the Dartford and Gravesham acute NHS trust. The hospital went from no stars to one star now. It has just obtained agreement for a diagnostic and treatment centre to be a built—a #9 million investment that will enable an extra 3,000 elective surgery operations to be carried out each year. Accident and emergency facilities are improving and expanding. This week, the chief executive wrote to tell me that the hospital is now on track to achieve the two-week cancer target, and is well on the way to reaching the targets for both out-patient and in-patient waiting times. In other words, the hospital is making significant improvements in service delivery.
No. There is little time and other hon. Members still want to speak.
This afternoon, hon. Members have asked about those trusts that are left out—that are not able to become foundation hospitals. It has been suggested that hospitals with one or two stars will not get a look-in and will somehow miss out. I take issue with that. In my area, where the hospital has one star, it is getting very significant improvements in its facilities, its management structure and its outcomes. It should not be assumed that just because a hospital is ineligible to apply for foundation status, it is automatically at a disadvantage.
In general practice we have the PMS pilots—for personal medical services—and advanced access, whereby patients will be able to see a nurse within 24 hours, or a doctor within 48 hours, of when they wish. That too is a significant improvement. The new GP contract, which I gather will be released sometime next month, will show how GPs can improve their facilities and their patient care, and develop their practices.
All that will, of course, have a major impact on the local health economy. I am pleased to announce that this morning my local hospital trust had a 14.5 per cent. increase in its capital allocation over the next three years, which will significantly increase its ability to improve health care services.
I would like to focus on a radical rethink about the way in which we deliver health care, and how we view it. I want to look closely at what we really mean by the terms health, illness and disease. The World Health Organisation's 1968 definition of what constitutes health is about the complete physical, psychological and social well-being, not just the absence of disease. That definition will, I hope, encompass the vast majority of people in this country.
What constitutes illness behaviour? It was defined by Mechanic in 1962 as the actions taken by someone when they perceive themselves to be ill. According to some of the early work done on that idea, most people, when they perceive themselves to be ill, do not go to a doctor or a hospital casualty department; they do other things. They might go to a chemist or speak to their neighbours or their friends, and they will probably wait for a week or two to see what happens. Most people do not automatically rely on the NHS.
Only a relatively small number of people with disease—defined as an abnormality in structure or function of tissues or organs—need the acute services of the NHS. We have an obsession about the health service being synonymous with acute, expensive high-tech care. In fact, acute high-tech care is only one very small part of care delivery. The vast majority of people use informal methods; they go to the chemist, or their friends and family. Only a relatively small number of people use the acute care sector, and it is only a tiny part of the NHS—yet debate after debate in the House focuses on extremely expensive high-tech delivery as if that were the NHS.
NHS figures show that more than 90 per cent. of episodes of illness, as perceived by patients and as taken to medical professionals, are dealt with by GPs, practice nurses and other health professionals in the primary care setting.
Does the hon. Gentleman think that the slogan XSchools and hospitals first" helps or hinders his attempts to educate his colleagues about the importance of primary health care?
I knew that the Liberal Democrat spokesman would have to score political points, because that is what he does. I am trying to widen the debate away from party politics. I am trying to use the debate to widen the subject as far as possible and to consider other aspects of health care.
As I was saying, more than 90 per cent. of episodes of health delivery are given in the primary care setting; that is where the bulk of health care takes place.
Public health is a subject that we do not debate often, but the biggest cause of ill health in this country is poverty, including relative poverty, which causes diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. In 1911 the Registrar General, Stephenson, set up the disease classification by social class, and even as long ago as that, he made it clear that virtually all diseases are related to social class. In those days social class was a good measure, but these days we tend to use socio-economic status, because that is a fairer measure of the way society is now.
Every disease that I can think of, apart from malignant melanoma, is actually a disease of poverty and low socio-economic status. That is where the really big debate needs to take place. Almost all diseases—certainly obesity, diabetes, which is a major drain on the NHS, and heart disease and cancer, which are both major killers—are diseases of relative poverty in this country.
Things are so bad that a child born in some parts of Manchester is likely to live 10 years less than a child born to a similar family in Devon. We should all be concerned about that. What should we do about it? That should be the really big health debate—public health care and what we do about delivering public health in our society. During the recess I was fortunate enough to have a pamphlet about public health in children, which I wrote with my researcher, Bryan Jones, published by the Fabian Society. We looked hard at what constitutes good public health measures for children and young people so that we could try to avoid a major epidemic of obesity in young people. Obesity among children has doubled in the past 10 years and has now reached epidemic proportions. The figures are similar to those in America, where it is becoming a major public health issue. In the pamphlet, we looked at what we should do about food in schools; advertising sweets, crisps and so on to children; what we should do to educate parents to give their children better nutritional advice; what we should do about food poverty; and children and exercise.
The House should look more widely at what we should do as a nation about public health issues, including obesity reduction measures, ways of teaching kids to eat more healthily, teaching schools to provide better nutritional facilities and helping them to provide better sports facilities; and making sure that parents are properly educated about delivering good nutritional advice to their children. In the pamphlet, for example, we suggest tax breaks for shops in food-poor areas to encourage the setting-up of shops in rural or inner-city areas where it is more difficult to make ends meet. We believe that such changes could make a significant improvement to the health of the nation.
In the few remaining minutes, I want to widen our debate. Health care is critical, but we must not focus purely on the high-tech end of the market and assume that it is a marker of the failure or success of Government policy. We must look at the issue far more broadly. I am pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend Ms Blears, who has ministerial responsibility for public health, is on the Front Bench, because she is instrumental in the Government's policies to deliver high-quality public health. It should not be forgotten that this Government are the first to have a Minister with specific responsibility for public health, which is extremely welcome.
We should widen the debate and look at public health in its entirety to make sure that children, the next generation of society, are treated in the best possible way and are given the best possible start in life, as well as the best educational and sports facilities. That does not necessarily cost a fortune. In fact, if the next generation is brought up to be healthier, stronger, fitter and more able to care for itself, spending on expensive, acute and high-tech hospitals would be reduced. There is a genuine risk that if we do not do something about obesity in children now, they will pre-decease their parents in significant numbers, which should concern us all. I am pleased to have had a chance to contribute to our debate, and I hope that other Members will have a chance to make their contributions.
It is a great pleasure to follow Dr. Stoate, who always speaks with great enthusiasm and passion about health, although I am not sure that his remarks today were pertinent to the motion or the amendment.
I am delighted to be able to take part in this important debate. Foundation hospitals are an essential way forward for the provision of health care, particularly in England. It was slightly cheeky of the Secretary of State to try to persuade the House, even though he did so with a smirk, that the provision of foundation trusts and hospitals fitted comfortably with socialist ideals and the history of the NHS going back to Keir Hardie and others who formulated the ideals of the health service. That was duplicitous and disingenuous, to say the least.
I agree with the principle of setting up foundation trusts and hospitals. I shall come on to specific questions later, but any positive decentralising move that severs Whitehall control and creates greater local control, ownership and accountability must be encouraged. Any positive move to reduce the politicisation of the NHS and devolve decision-making power to people with knowledge of the requirements and priorities of a particular locality is to be encouraged, as is increasing democratisation and democratic control. In my constituency, where I have two hospitals—Pilgrim hospital in Boston and the Skegness and District hospital, of which the former is by far the more significant—there would be definite advantages in allowing much more local control and decision making to determine where money is spent and which services are given top priority.
Before I discuss the detail of the foundation hospital and foundation trust proposals, I want to put on record my admiration for the enormous amount of hard work done by all those who work in the health service, from the top clinicians, through the doctors, the nurses, to the ancillary staff—those who work in the kitchens, and cleaning staff—particularly those in my constituency. I have taken the trouble to spend quite a lot of time in the hospitals in my constituency, and have done a night shift at Pilgrim hospital in Boston, which gave me a far greater understanding of the pressures faced by many hospital staff.
There seems to be a considerable dichotomy between the Government's view of the state of the NHS and the view of most Members of Parliament, who receive in their postbag a great deal of correspondence about the health service. If Labour Members were more honest and were not simply supporting their Government, I expect that they would acknowledge that there are severe problems in the health service. The Secretary of State admitted as much in his comments earlier today.
To my mind, the problems are systemic. It is not possible to provide a successful and flexible service that is controlled from the centre. The Government are right to examine ways of improving the quantity and quality of health care provision, but that can be achieved only by removing central control, which creates a large, unwieldy bureaucracy that cannot cope or react to local priorities. For the sake of making the argument, I shall repeat the two stark statistics that have been quoted by other hon. Members: there are 24,000 to 25,000 more administrators than beds for patients. That is an extraordinary statistic. As was mentioned, I think, by my hon. Friend Dr. Fox and my hon. Friend Mr. Flook, despite the 20 to 22 per cent. increase in funding that has occurred over the past couple of years, hospital treatments are up by only 1.6 per cent. and admissions are down by 0.5 per cent. or 55,000. In Scotland, there has been a 28 per cent. increase in funding and a 25 per cent. increase in waiting lists.
Those statistics demonstrate clearly that money alone is not enough to improve the provision of health care. I do not represent a particularly affluent area of the country. It is rural Lincolnshire, and many people in my constituency are economically challenged. I know of people on benefit who are so desperate for treatment that they are going private by borrowing money from neighbours next door, which they can never hope to pay back. If the health service allows that to happen and does not look after the worst-off and most vulnerable people in our society, it is clear that there is something fundamentally wrong with the system that is currently in operation. It is right that we look at ways to improve it.
Despite the splits at the most senior level of Government between the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, through to the Back Benches, as we have seen in the debate today and through the early-day motion that has been signed by more than 100 Labour Members of Parliament, the main criticism seems to be that the creation of foundation trusts and foundation hospitals would produce a two-tier system. As other hon. Members have pointed out, we not only have a two-tier system already; we have a multi-tier system.
When I asked my local representatives of various trade unions and the British Medical Association, they made the same point. With reference to the creation of foundation hospitals, the chairman of the BMA said:
XThese freedoms ought to be available to all hospitals. Our prime concern must be to avoid creating a two-tier service in which patients who live near to Foundation Hospitals or are vocal and assertive in pressing to be referred to them, receive better services than those who are treated in other hospitals."
That problem can be overcome only by increasing the number of foundation trusts and hospitals, not by picking and selecting the best.
Does my hon. Friend recall that during the debate, a number of Labour and Liberal Democrat Members referred disparagingly to the experience of GP fundholders? They said that that created two-tier status. Does not that suggest that there should be a larger number of hospitals with foundation status at an early stage, so that there are not some hospitals with that status and some without? The greater freedom would be in the collective interest of the NHS, and everybody should aspire to that at an early stage.
I thank my hon. Friend for that pertinent intervention. He is absolutely right to highlight that issue. However, the question involves not only controls on the finances of foundation hospitals, of which there should be more, but democratic control, which does not exist as it perhaps should—a point that I shall deal with later.
It is not necessarily important who owns the hospitals, but we should consider every possible way of maximising the beneficial outputs and improving health care provision in totality. Diversity, by its very nature, leads to innovation, so why will so few hospitals benefit from the freedom of foundation status? Surely, if the motivation is to improve the quality of health care, foundation hospitals and trusts should be used as a route to improve hospitals that are already improving. They should be used as an extra incentive, without the best merely being selected in terms of those that have three stars. That would be a major way of improving the service that is already being provided on the ground. One of the main bodies that deals with health care is the King's Fund. Julia Neuberger says:
Xfoundation status should not be limited to those trusts with three stars. Real power should be devolved to the local NHS and not just superficial autonomy from every central directive."
I intervened to question Siobhain McDonagh, who did not seem to grasp the view that I was trying to convey, and Andy Burnham, who did. I pointed out that the main problem holding back the development of many hospitals is the centralised bureaucracy that is determining the way in which they operate. Freeing them from that bureaucracy will give them greater opportunity and ability to improve the services that they are giving to patients and the public at large.
One of my greatest concerns—I hope that the Minister will deal with it—is that there will be a tremendous challenge, bearing in mind the volatility of the star system, in trying to maintain a three-star system year on year while also trying to bed down the complexities that will be involved in the transferral to foundation status. What will happen if a hospital loses its three stars because it is trying to move to foundation trust status? Will it lose the opportunity to become a foundation hospital? If that were the case, it would be an enormous waste of time and resources.
Are there problems with guaranteed service provision? There are great concerns that, when the funding is devolved, foundation hospitals will have the ability to decide which service provision to make a priority, so there may be opportunities for them to drop services that are not particularly popular or well used. That point was eloquently made by Dr. Taylor and I do not think that it has been sufficiently dealt with.
Will the argument about population shifts be built into the funding formula calculations? Lincolnshire, especially in my constituency, has an ever-expanding population driven by the many people who are rightly retiring to the beauties of the county. Funding needs to be addressed to take account of that. Many of those who are retiring to Skegness come from the ex-coal-mining areas in the midlands and some of them have serious health problems that rightly need to be addressed. I want to ensure that the funding is available so that foundation-status trusts can cope with that.
I want to deal with two main issues before my time is up. The first relates to the independent nature of foundation hospitals. How can a hospital be independent when it must still meet Government targets, even if there are fewer of them? What happens if there is a clash in which the foundation hospital does not think that it is a priority to meet the Government targets that are still set down? Will that be an excuse for the Secretary of State to withdraw foundation status?
I had a brief exchange earlier with Dr. Harris about private patients. They represent a way in which a hospital can generate additional income and use up surplus capacity, thereby also generating income. They may, in extreme circumstances, stave off the closure of part of a hospital. Why are provisions for private patients limited? What would happen if a foundation trust or hospital decided to circumvent the Secretary of State's specifications on this point? Would that be another reason to withdraw the hospital's status?
Will primary care trusts be able to decide which foundation hospital to put their funds into, or will there be detailed contracts drawn up for a period of years? I have heard five or seven years being mentioned. Would that not limit the hospital's decision-making processes and service provision capabilities?
Does my hon. Friend agree that if such contracts were seven years long, they might arch over the four or five year period of office of the elected membership of the trust, and therefore tie those people in without giving them any flexibility to change any management practices?
That point had not occurred to me, but it is an extremely good one. I would be interested to know whether the ministerial team has thought through those issues.
How will the issue of not poaching staff be enforced? Mr. Dobson made a good point about this; it was the only point he made with which I agreed. He said that we cannot stop people applying for jobs in different hospitals. There do not seem to have been many thought processes devoted to that point.
I totally and wholeheartedly agree that there should be more local accountability and democratic control of foundation hospital trusts, and I believe that that should be extended beyond the levels proposed in the forthcoming Bill. My hon. Friend Mr. Lansley made a very eloquent speech on this matter. So many facets have not been explained yet. In my constituency, the Pilgrim hospital in Boston covers an enormous area, not only in my constituency but beyond: north towards Louth, over towards Grantham and south towards Peterborough. There are crossovers: some people go to Peterborough hospital, some go to the Pilgrim hospital in Boston, some go to Lincoln or Nottingham. What will happen in those circumstances? Who will get a vote? Who will be elected on to the boards? Will people who live in Boston be able to sit on boards in Nottingham or Leicester, if they use facilities there? I would like the ministerial team to explain that.
The foundation hospitals will get into enormous difficulties unless a detailed policy is introduced on how the funding will be allocated when the hospitals gather more and more patients as the services improve over time. Will they all be sharing the same cake? How will the contracts operate, not only with the primary care trusts but with the other primary organisations within a particular geographical location that feed into the hospital? Will they be long-term contracts? Will they be flexible? Will the trusts be able to break them if they prefer to use facilities at another hospital, if indeed there is another foundation hospital that they can transfer to?
While I agree with foundation hospitals, I do not think that the Labour Government are in a position to change the national health service sufficiently. They have too much baggage, both philosophical and ideological, and too many interests in the trade union movement—their friends and paymasters there have an entrenched and self-centred belief that things should stay the same—and, ultimately, there are too many left-wing Members of Parliament who do not want to see even the first foundation hospital come to fruition, never mind seeing the scheme rolled out across the whole United Kingdom.
I welcome the debate and the opportunity to contribute, but I must say that when I saw it listed on the Order Paper I was a little surprised that the Conservative party had picked the national health service as its chosen topic for an Opposition day. I am sure that a lot of my constituents in Wimbledon, if they have been listening or tuning in, will share my curiosity at some of the things that have been said.
I understand that the Opposition are keen to depoliticise the issue of the NHS and to pick individual topics such as foundation hospitals, on which they feel that they may be in some agreement with us, but if they are in agreement with us, it is for the wrong reasons. I shall return to that point.
Most people in my constituency and, I am sure, around the country would recognise that the NHS is probably one of the issues, if not the leading issue, of the day that separates the two parties, as the differences are so stark.
Although the debate has at times had the tone and feeling of a Second Reading due to the development of a cosy consensus around a proposal that everybody favours, we should remember that the Opposition introduced the subject. They should be challenging the Government, and Parliament would not do its job properly if it did not use Opposition day debates to emphasise the differences between us, of which there are many.
My constituents will be surprised that the Conservatives have picked the NHS as the subject for the debate, because, like me, they know that, with few exceptions, Conservative Members no longer believe in its founding values and principles. Those who do are a dwindling number and ever more at the margins of today's Conservative party.
Not at the moment. The hon. Gentleman has had an opportunity to put his thoughts about the NHS on the record.
I do not say that there are no Conservative Members who see a future for the NHS, but let us not forget that the Conservatives opposed its establishment 50 years ago. We know that many leading Conservatives—perhaps the hon. Gentleman numbers himself among them—including the shadow Secretary of State, Dr. Fox, want to dismantle the NHS. There is a big debate to be had on the future of the NHS, but, in terms of where the public stand, I believe that the Conservatives are on the wrong side of that debate.
The hon. Gentleman perpetuates a myth that Ms Taylor also sought to perpetuate, which is that we in the Conservative party do not believe in the NHS. The day before the NHS was founded, my father worked for London county council. He then worked for the NHS for 34 years, including the day it was born, and ran a laboratory at East Ham memorial hospital. I was brought up by someone who worked in the NHS. I have always used it and I shall continue to do so. Why is the hon. Gentleman trying to distort and misrepresent the motives of Conservative Members?
I said that a few Conservative Members believe in the NHS—perhaps the hon. Gentleman numbers himself among them—but I also said that they are a dwindling number and ever more marginal in terms of influence. I do not want to embarrass him, but perhaps he numbers himself in that group as well.
If I may, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall finish dealing with one intervention before giving way to take another. I would like to make a little progress, although I am glad to see that I have excited some reaction from the Opposition and nudged them out of their complacent consensus.
If there is to be a future for the NHS, there needs to be an ambitious, imaginative and radical reform programme as outlined in the NHS plan. That comes at a price, which is sustained investment in the NHS—the investment that the Government are putting in, not the 20 per cent. cuts that the shadow Chief Secretary has on offer.
I can only assume that the Conservatives have chosen to debate foundation hospitals because they want to engage in point scoring. They know that a debate is going on in the Labour party, and rightly so, about whether foundation hospitals and the other reforms that we are putting forward are a good thing or a bad thing.
However, so far as I can tell there is no division within the Labour party about the fundamental principles and values of the national health service, about the need to invest in it, or about the need to reform it if we are to safeguard it for future generations. Nor is there division within the party about the need to rebuild the NHS as part of the political mission that people, including my constituents, elected Labour Members of Parliament to undertake.
By focusing on an important measure that they actually agree with—although important, it is just part of an overall strategy and package of reforms—perhaps the Conservatives hope that people will think that we agree on everything else as well. However, nothing could be further from the truth. We certainly do not agree with Conservative plans for the national health service, and this proposal is not the first step down the road that they would like to take us down. There are two very different approaches at stake here. The fact that both Labour and Conservative Members think that the current proposal for foundation hospitals may be a good thing does not mean that we both approach it from the same direction. A foundation hospital is not some kind of shareholder-led, privately owned, market-driven hospital. Foundation hospitals are a new experiment in community-led, but still very much public, ownership. The proposal to establish foundation hospitals must be set in a much wider context than our overall strategy to reform and rebuild the national health service, important though that is. It must be set in the context of the changing balance between public and private that we need in today's world to secure and safeguard the public good.
These debates can sometimes seem rather sterile, in part because of the temptation to engage in inaccurate stereotyping, which we have had plenty of today from the Opposition. Apparently, we are all Stalinists because we believe in some form of central monitoring and standards for the national health service. However, let us not forget that it was this Government who introduced national standards for the NHS in 1997, and that in 18 years of Conservative Government we had no national standards of any kind. Is introducing such standards Stalinist? There has to be some form of central monitoring and control.
We should not engage in such sterile and inaccurate stereotyping of each other's positions, and I am not going to give hon. Members the chance to do so again.
However, the idea that state ownership and state control always equates with the public good, and that individual input into health and other public services is always bad—or indeed, vice versa—is no longer the most valid way to think about these issues, and we need to recognise that. The potential importance of this innovative proposal for foundation hospitals is that there may be ways of better balancing local accountability with national standards, innovation and public enterprise to serve the public good. We must think afresh about how we define the public good in relation to public services. There must be ways of safeguarding the public good, and some of the strongest proposals relating to foundation hospitals are those for an independent regulator, for important local and democratic input, and for regular inspections. The national framework and national standards will remain, along with—I hope—a great deal of national and local democratic control.
If the Conservatives think that foundation hospitals are a good thing because they will be completely free from any mechanism or framework of national control and inspection, or if they think that this is a step towards privatisation, they are going to be disappointed. I also hope that my right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson—he is indeed my friend—will take on board those remarks, and that they will help to cheer him up. He made some important points, and we would be wise to listen to what he says. He articulated fears and apprehensions felt by many people in the party and outside it about the new proposals.
One can oppose the proposals for ideological reasons, but I am not sure that that is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras opposes them. He raised many practical objections to the proposals, and that is where the core of the debate now lies. However, how can it be contrary to the public interest and good to allow a system to develop that is more flexible in terms of delivery, that can give more choice to the user—although I take his point that there needs to be a surplus capacity—and that helps to liberate the talent, energy and innovative potential of the people who work for the public good in the NHS?
If the proposals are going to liberate people, why is there such a lack of enthusiasm for them among those who represent doctors, nurses, midwives and therapists?
My right hon. Friend is a former Secretary of State for Health, and is in regular contact with his local hospitals. I am in very regular contact with my local hospitals and with the people who work in them. I take issue with him as to whether there is a lack of interest in the proposals. I believe that people are keen to take on more responsibility. We must recognise that there has been a great deal of change in the NHS, and the way in which we manage change is very important.
St. Helier hospital in my constituency got a no-star rating two years ago. It appointed a new chairman and new chief executive and was given the resources that it needed, with the result that this year it achieved a two-star rating. All the staff in the organisation were involved and believed in the need for change. We must win the hearts and minds of people in the NHS. We cannot work against them. They have to work with us. If we can get them to do that, we can really transform things, as I have seen happen with St. Helier hospital.
Will my hon. Friend admit that people who are worried about whether foundation trusts are the right answer to what is a very effective analysis of some of the difficulties in the NHS are also afraid that the proposals will lead to the unleashing of competition and fragmentation in the system, despite the assurances about co-operation? There is a danger that that will be the result of the reforms, to the detriment of the NHS as a whole.
I agree that that danger exists, and it is a valid and fair apprehension for people to have. We must deal with it, but our priority must be to create levers to improve the quality and standard of the health service as a whole. No one says that that will be easy, or that other problems will not arise. My hon. Friend has highlighted the very important difficulties that will be encountered when we implement the policy, but I believe that, on balance, it is right to go down this route.
I believe that allowing hospitals to be foundation hospitals will accelerate the development of excellence in the provision of their services. The key is how that is linked into everything else and how the improvements are spread around. For example, the Sutton and Merton primary care trust in my constituency was one of the first to be set up. It is an example of best practice and I am in very regular contact with the staff there. The PCT has received extra resources and is doing very well. I always ask staff what they are doing to stimulate, support and help other trusts. As with beacon schools, for instance, it is no good for people to rest on their laurels and say, XWe are the best, everyone should come to us." Staff must recognise that they have a duty and responsibility to spread best practice around.
We have to start somewhere, and it is right to start with the three-star hospital trusts. They are the best, and will be the easiest to deal with. However, there is a special responsibility on those hospital trusts and on the Government to do everything possible to improve standards in the NHS. They are simply not high enough today.
My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government have recently passed legislation to allow the best performing schools to have greater freedoms. Local authorities were recently assessed by the Audit Commission, and those found to be of good standard will also be given greater freedoms. Why should we not be able to consider reforms to the NHS similar to those that have helped to improve education and local government?
I agree with my hon. Friend—I think that we can learn from successful approaches in other parts of the public services. We cannot automatically transfer such approaches, but we can be encouraged by the success of beacon schools and spreading best practice around. We should do everything we can to ensure that if we go ahead with this proposal of foundation hospitals, we share best practice in the health service as well.
These are valid fears and apprehensions, but that is what they are—fears and apprehensions. With the money that is being invested, we have a historic opportunity to be much more bold, ambitious and imaginative. Of course we must avoid having a two-tier system. If the Conservative party were returned to Government, we would have not a two-tier system but a no-tier system.
We do not want a system that produces inequality; we want one in which there is both greater equality and quality. Three hospitals serve my constituency—Kingston is in the more prosperous, middle-class area, St. Helier is in a poorer area and St. George's in Tooting, to which my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh referred, is in more of a mixed area. When the star rating system was introduced, Kingston had two stars, St. George's had one and St. Helier had none. Many have asked me why there is a superior level of service in Kingston compared with St. Helier. As a result of our reform package, our investment and the changes in St. Helier that I have talked about, St. Helier, Kingston and St. George's all had two stars this year. I believe that we can uprate the service, improve quality and bring everybody up to the same level, but we have to start somewhere, and we need the levers to do it. I believe that that is what the foundation hospitals proposal will provide.
The Labour party set up the national health service—that is our proudest achievement. We are rebuilding it today because we want it to be there tomorrow. We are determined to succeed and I believe that radical proposals such as foundation hospitals will allow us to do so.
I am not sure whether it is the third way or the new way forward in a new year, but it will not have escaped the notice of the House that the Opposition have chosen a debate in which we welcome the principle of the Government's policy of introducing foundation hospitals. I shall elaborate on that welcome in greater detail later in my remarks.
We have had an extremely good debate, to which eight of my right hon. and hon. Friends contributed. My right hon. Friend Mr. Dorrell, with his experience as a former Secretary of State for Health, gave an extremely lucid and interesting speech on the concept of foundation hospitals and how they can improve and enhance patient care. I strongly recommend any hon. Member who was not in the Chamber to read his speech at their leisure.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Redwood also gave an extremely good and thought-provoking speech. He reiterated an abiding principle, which I wholeheartedly agree with, of a national health service free at the point of use for all.
My hon. Friends the Members for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page) and for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) highlighted, in their different ways, problems in their constituencies in Hertfordshire and Leicestershire. My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth asked why hospitals in his county could not seek foundation status from the outset and also gave us the benefit of his knowledge of complementary medicine.
My hon. Friend Mr. Lansley spoke eloquently about local accountability and patient choice. My hon. Friends the Members for Taunton (Mr. Flook) and for Boston and Skegness (Mr. Simmonds) both raised valid points with regard to their constituencies and spoke about the benefits of improving and enhancing the national health service through the independence of foundation hospitals.
My right hon. and hon. Friends had the pleasure—I suppose that it could be described as such—of listening to classic Liberal speeches. At one point, Dr. Harris had the audacity to complain that the Government were trying to have things both ways. For a party that wants first one thing and then something else, I found his gall and nerve staggering.
We now turn to the Labour party. In his Fabian Society speech last year, the Secretary of State said:
What would Nye Bevan have thought of the contributions from the Government Benches? Throughout the whole debate, notwithstanding the keenness of the Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Foreign Office, Roger Casale, the spectre of old Labour has been lurking with menace on the Labour Back Benches.
The Secretary of State already had an inkling of what he could expect as he has no doubt seen early-day motion 351, which was signed by more than 100 of his right hon. and hon. Friends. That early-day motion includes some interesting names; not only the usual suspects—to use Whips' parlance—but 13 former Ministers, including two former Secretaries of State, one of whom was Secretary of State for Health and the boss of the current Secretary of State. Amazingly, the list includes the name of a former Deputy Chief Whip, which suggests that the gamekeeper has finally turned poacher.
What is the cause of so many problems to a quarter of the parliamentary Labour party? The early-day motion notes
Xwith concern the intention by Government to introduce foundation hospitals, which would create a two-tier . . . system".
That is a significant accusation, especially as the Secretary of State himself—in his speech to the Fabian Society—stated:
XA one nation Britain cannot be built on two-tier health care."
Sadly, the Government's proposals set the framework for a two-tier system, although not for the reasons given by those who signed the early-day motion, but because they would allow only a small group of 34 three-star hospitals to apply for foundation status, rather than all hospitals. By that act, the Secretary of State will indeed set hospital against hospital and will create the two-tier system that so many of his hon. Friends do not want.
The contributions of Labour Members were interesting. I give credit to the Government Whips Office. There were speeches in support of the Government. I was interested, albeit slightly perplexed, when I heard the contribution made by Siobhain McDonagh. She spoke from her brief—adequately. I was not convinced that she fully understood what she was saying but she did the business.
Rather like Nelson turning his blind eye to the telescope, the hon. Member for Wimbledon—a loyal PPS—had the audacity to reassure the House that there was no validity in the claims that the Labour party was divided on the issue. The hon. Gentleman cannot have been reading the newspapers or early-day motions, or listening to the remarks made by some of his right hon. and hon. Friends during the past month.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman; that intervention really has clarified the situation.
Andy Burnham supports the Government, but if the narrow party political points are stripped from his speech, I give him credit for an extremely interesting and positive contribution on the whole subject of foundation hospitals. The House will have benefited from that, and I look forward to working with him on the Health Committee when we consider the whole issue of foundation hospitals.
Mr. Jones gave what can best be described as grudging support for the proposal, but support it was. Finally, Mr. Dobson made an excellent and classic speech of opposition to a policy. I did not agree with the points that he made, but I respected his clarity and his commitment to his point of view. What particularly interested me, given that, just over two years ago, he was a senior member of the Government, was that he had the courage to accuse this Government and No. 10 of being Maoist. He was wrong, because, immediately, the Secretary of State—I am surprised that he is so knowledgeable, or I was before the matter was researched further—claimed that the correct description was Trotskyist, not Maoist. I wondered why he had such an intimate knowledge of the matter, until I realised that, in the early 1980s, before he joined the Labour party in 1983, he shared a house with local members of the International Marxist Group—of which he was not a member, I hasten to add, so as not to slander him—and he was active in Newcastle in a left-wing bookshop called XDays of Hope". I am sure that he will be able to tell the House the pseudonym of that shop. We then heard the contribution of Mr. Hinchliffe, who remained a trenchant critic of the Government's proposals.
Those Members are the tip of the iceberg of their more than 100 colleagues who are wedded to the idea that what is best for the improvement and enhancement of the national health service should not go ahead, because they are locked in a time warp of an ideology and philosophy and an archaic realisation of needs. Society has moved on, as have the demands of the national service. As my hon. Friend Dr. Fox said at the beginning of the debate, we welcome the principle of foundation hospitals. That principle will provide freedom and diversity in the provision of health care, and will significantly advance patient care. While we favour the principle of foundation hospitals, we believe that freedoms for hospitals to borrow and set their own priorities should be given to all hospitals and not simply to a chosen few at the outset. That is the way forward, and that is the way in which the Government should move forward. The principle should be universal.
XAt our best when at our boldest."
That was what the Prime Minister proudly proclaimed at the Labour party conference last year. If the Government really wish to be bold, they should not seek to limit the number of foundation hospitals or the principles underpinning them. That is not boldness but timidity and weakness. I would have hoped that the message would strike a chord with the Secretary of State. In a speech to the new health network a year ago, he said:
XFor patient choice to thrive it needs a different environment. One in which there is greater diversity and plurality in local services which have the freedom to innovate and respond to patients needs."
He went on to say that he would be the man who would redefine the national health service,
Xchanging it from a monolithic, centrally run, monopoly provider of services to a values based system" with
Xdifferent health care providers in the public, private and voluntary sectors."
I suspect that I am more in agreement with the Secretary of State than are many of his colleagues.
To take the Secretary of State's rhetoric to its logical conclusion, he should not pass up the opportunity to be bold, as the Prime Minister so proudly proclaimed. He should allow all hospitals to seek foundation status from the outset. The trouble is that his announcements so far smack of fudge surrounded by confusion. Sadly, the publication of XA Guide to NHS Foundation Trusts" has added little clarity.
We have found during this debate, starting with the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring and continuing with the remarks of almost every Conservative Member who has spoken, as well as some Labour Members, that there is confusion about exactly what the Government intend to do. The framework and guidelines that have been provided are full of glib expressions and do not give details about how free hospital trusts will be. What powers will they have? What will they be able to do with their money and with the funds that they borrow? We must have greater clarity and detail on those matters before we can be expected to sign up to a principle to which we are not opposed.
I urge the Secretary of State to make available as soon as possible, preferably before the Committee stage of any legislation that emanates from his Department, the details that have been requested during the debate, so that we know exactly what the Government are doing. We need to know whether the reality of what they are planning will live up to their rhetoric. For that reason, I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to join me in the Lobby tonight in support of the motion tabled by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and other colleagues.
I warmly congratulate all right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken in what Mr. Burns was right to describe as a very good debate. We have heard excellent speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, all of them certainly delivered with passion and conviction.
There have been strong speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones), for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), for Putney (Mr. Colman), for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor), for Leigh (Andy Burnham), for Dartford (Dr. Stoate) and for Wimbledon (Roger Casale) in support of the Government's intention to create NHS foundation trusts, and I welcome that support. A number of perfectly fair and reasonable concerns have also been raised by some of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Those concerns are valid; I understand them, and I shall deal with them in a moment.
Our debate started with the contribution from Dr. Fox. It was his usual dismal diatribe of doom and gloom, which has become familiar to all of us in the House because we have come to know what his real objectives are. They are, first, to undermine the NHS rather than to support it and, secondly, to characterise the brilliant work done by staff, day in day out, as failure rather than success. It was clear to us all that the hon. Gentleman was too embarrassed to talk about his party's policies on the NHS because he knows just how unsavoury the British public will find them.
Dr. Harris also made a familiar contribution. It was genuinely hard to see what reforms his party favours that would genuinely help to improve NHS performance. With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, I have to say that I found his contribution utterly incoherent, and it was one of his better ones. He has come to propagate an excuse culture, not a problem-solving one. He has nothing to say of any relevance.
My right hon. Friend Mr. Dobson made a very effective speech. He will know that I have huge respect for him, and I enjoyed enormously the time that I spent working with him as one of his junior Ministers. However, I have to say to him and to the House that I think that he is fundamentally wrong in his view of foundation trusts and about our intention behind introducing these proposals. I shall return to his comments and to those of my hon. Friend Mrs. Dean in a few moments.
Mr. Dorrell is a distinguished former Secretary of State for Health and he made a skilful and careful speech. However, I would be interested to hear his views about his party's policies on health. As they have emerged over the past few weeks, I cannot bring myself to believe that he has any support whatever for the varied contributions that we have heard from those on the Opposition Front Bench recently. I assure him that foundation trusts will be a new type of institution and not another vehicle for state ownership.
I hope that my hon. Friend Mr. Hinchliffe will not mind my saying this, but I listened to his speech and I genuinely feel that he might be open to persuasion about the merits of foundation NHS trusts. I very much look forward to working on him—or rather with him—to convert that indication of implicit support into more concrete support in the future.
Although this point was made by a number of right hon. and hon. Members, I do not believe that the establishment of NHS foundation trusts will or should undermine primary care or the role of primary care trusts as the commissioners of local health care services. Exactly the opposite can be the case. I shall refer to that again in a second.
Mr. Redwood believes heroically and against all the odds and evidence that the Tories would stick to this Government's health budgets if they ever returned to office. Of course, that is a pledge that none of his Front-Bench spokesmen has been able or willing to make. I suspect that we will wait long and hard before we hear such a commitment from anyone who speaks for the Tories on health.The right hon. Gentleman talked about his commitment to ensuring maximum democratic involvement in the local NHS, and I welcome that support. The only problem that we have with that comment is that I can never recall him doing anything about it when he had the opportunity to do so in all his long years in government. I suspect that we will therefore probably treat his support with a hefty pinch of salt.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central made local accountability the main theme of his speech. I welcome his comments on that. He graciously said in relation to the speech of the right hon. Member for Wokingham that he remembered the time that the right hon. Gentleman was Secretary of State for Wales. I remember it too. I hate to bring it up—the right hon. Gentleman probably cringes every time this is referred to—but I remember his singing the Welsh national anthem. I have to be honest and say that I have no idea what the words are, but it was probably not a pleasant experience for him or for the rest of us. Let us not dwell on that any longer.
Mr. Page made an impassioned speech. By his own admission, it was a rare foray into our debates in the House on health. I will not say anything more about that, but his support for his local NHS would probably count for a lot more if he were prepared to support the extra investment that the Government are putting into it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden made an excellent speech, and I congratulate her on her ambition for the NHS. It is one that we share in government. My hon. Friend the Member for Putney also made a very useful contribution, emphasising the need for the Department to continue to deal with the performance of poorly performing hospitals. We will certainly continue to do that.
Dr. Taylor made a contribution that was essentially a long string of criticisms, so no change there. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South made a powerful speech and I warmly congratulate her on her contribution. In a telling phrase about the NHS, she said that we should not mistake a legacy for a monument. She is absolutely right. If that is her own comment, I shall quickly grab the copyright because I want to use that phrase in some of my speeches.
Mrs. Calton talked at length about internal health policy documents that had been produced by the Liberal Democrats. She helpfully proceeded to read most of them out. In the process, she did not really have anyone listening to her. Her contribution and those of the hon. Members for Taunton (Mr. Flook) and for Boston and Skegness (Mr. Simmonds) showed that none of them had actually read the Government's proposal to establish NHS foundation trusts. They raised a number of questions. I shall simply send them the document so that they can find the answers for themselves.
Labour Members are agreed on the need for extra investment in the NHS so that we build up the capacity of our public health care system, putting right decades of neglect, as many of my hon. Friends said. As a result of the action that we are taking, the NHS is the fastest growing health care system in Europe. By contrast, the Opposition oppose the investment in the NHS. They prefer the route of subsidising private health insurance, of top-up vouchers for those who can afford to go private and, we now discover, of 20 per cent. across-the-board cuts in public expenditure.
What a load of cobblers. The people the hon. Gentleman describes as managers are cooks, cleaners and porters. If he wants to sack those people from the NHS, it will be interesting to hear his proposition expounded.
Six years in opposition and all we get is the old Thatcherite agenda. No wonder there is talk among sensible Conservatives—there are still one or two of them—about getting rid of the Leader of the Opposition. Labour Members agree on the need for the Department of Health to continue to take action to deal with poor performance and poor management in NHS hospitals. We do that because we are absolutely committed to a universal and comprehensive health care system. We will not tolerate or make excuses, as others would, for poor performance anywhere in the NHS. By contrast, the Tories and the Liberals are opposed to that intervention. They have opposed the national standards that we have established, they have complained about the new inspectorate to monitor performance and the Tories opposed the establishment of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, which has helped to tackle the postcode lottery that we inherited.
The Opposition are wrong on the great issue of principle that should govern the debate about health care in our country, and so they are wrong on the detail of the reforms that are needed to improve the NHS. That is the Tory record on health and it is how we should judge their performance today.
The Tories have nothing sensible to say about the future of the NHS. That should not come as a surprise to Labour Members. The truth is that under the Tories, the NHS does not have a future. That is clear from everything they said today and what the hon. Member for Woodspring spelt out last year. The Government, however, believe in the NHS. It can become the service that we want it to be, offering more choice to patients over where and when they are treated, greater access to higher quality care and faster, more convenient treatment.
If the Minister is in favour of those things, will he explain why my constituents who need cardiac treatment were told a year ago that they could not go to King Edward VII hospital, Midhurst, which would treat them quickly? Instead, they were sent to Brighton, which delays their treatment and takes longer. Indeed, Brighton is now sending them back to Midhurst after a six-month wait. Is not that an absurdity?
What is absurd is the fact that the hon. Gentleman complains about the shortage of capacity in the NHS, but will not vote for the means to redress those problems. Until he does, we are not interested in anything he has to say.
Three basic concerns have been raised about foundation trusts. Some hon. Members argued for no more change in the NHS. They thought that we should maintain uniformity across the NHS, in terms of both structures and performance and operation. That is very much the point that my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras made. Some hon. Members argued that unless there is such uniformity, there will be competition rather than co-operation across the NHS and ultimately a two-tier health care system. They drew attention in particular to staff recruitment, financial freedoms and the commissioning process. Others, however, put forward a different argument. They were not opposed to the principle of NHS foundation trusts and wanted the freedoms intended for them extended to all NHS trusts at the same time. Several Conservative Members made that point.
Finally, concerns have been expressed that the freedoms we are proposing for NHS foundation trusts are not extensive enough, and that the Government should be prepared to go even further than they have already proposed to do.
In relation to the first of those three main areas of concern, it is important that all my right hon. and hon. Friends bear it in mind that NHS foundation trusts will be an integral part of the NHS. They will be set up to provide NHS services according to NHS principles and NHS standards. They will work under a clear statutory duty of partnership with other NHS organisations. NHS care will remain free at the point of use. As for pay and the terms and conditions under which staff will work, all the candidates for NHS foundation trust status will be signed up to implement the new NHS pay system.
Borrowing can be fairly and properly managed through the new prudential borrowing code, which will be operated by the independent regulator. That will prevent any explosion in unsustainable borrowing, or any unfair redistribution of capital borrowing across the system. In addition, we will establish proper safeguards around the use of public assets to protect the public interest.
The details will be set out in the forthcoming Bill, but our intention is crystal clear. NHS foundation trusts will be an addition to the NHS family, not a subtraction from it. They will strengthen public ownership, not weaken it. They will help to encourage local delivery of high-quality services by giving greater power and responsibility to local staff and local people. In doing all those things, NHS foundation trusts will help to sustain public support for NHS values and NHS principles.
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has repeatedly made clear, establishing NHS foundation trusts will not diminish our efforts to support poorly performing hospitals to improve their performance. On the contrary, we remain absolutely committed to improving the services provided in every NHS hospital at the fastest possible rate. Establishing NHS foundation trusts will not deflect us from that objective. No NHS hospital in any part of the country will simply be left to sink or swim—that is the Tory approach. Action will be taken to improve standards where that is necessary, but where standards are already high, Whitehall should be prepared to stand back and let local staff and management get on with the job at hand. That is the principle that underlies our approach.
That is the right approach, but it is equally right that we should look again at the historical model of public ownership in health. Why should public ownership be synonymous with state control? A model that was right for 1948 cannot, for that reason alone, continue to command unquestioning support today. It is right that we aim to design a new model that can genuinely enhance the concept of public ownership, the values of public service and the principle of democratic accountability. That is what NHS foundation trusts are designed to do.
That is precisely why we have made our proposals. We can carry them out in a way that will entrench and deepen the concept of public ownership in our society, not undermine it in the way that some have suggested. In my view, a model of public ownership in which the public feel they do not own anything at all, which is our present model, does more to undermine the concept of public property and public service than anything else, and makes it easier for the privatisers on the Conservative Benches, if they ever get into power again, to realise their aspiration to sell off the NHS. We can and should look to other models of public ownership, drawing on the experience of mutual and co-operative societies as a way forward. Those are good Labour traditions and I believe that we can apply them successfully to the NHS.
Let me make three brief comments on the second argument advanced today. First, we should begin the reforms in the right place and we should start them carefully. There is a judgment call to be made—I accept that—but I think it sensible to consider the best performing hospitals as the first possible candidates for NHS foundation trust status. They have an established track record of outstanding performance, so they are the logical and prudent starting point for the reforms—but others can follow. There will be no arbitrary limit on the number of trusts that can become an NHS foundation trust—the more, the better.
Secondly, to separate the proposed new ownership model from the freedoms that we propose should accompany it would create a formula for confusion. With our proposed new model of ownership for NHS foundation trusts should come new responsibility. If poorly performing hospitals—