I thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement. As ever with these statements, the devil is in the detail. In broad terms, the Liberal Democrats welcome the allocations announced today and the increased investment that they imply. We see it as our task to continue pressing the Government to make sure that the investment going into the NHS is spent as wisely as possible.
The Secretary of State talked about primary care trust allocations. Can he tell us when he plans to make announcements about central allocations, too? He had a lot to say about improving public health and tackling health inequalities. In earlier proposals, he set out his plans for a partial ban on smoking in public places. If the intention really is to protect people's health, why does the health of customers and workers in pubs not need protection unless they are consuming food? How will that policy close the health gap between the richer and poorer areas of our country, which is, it seems, a Government priority?
Given that the latest National Audit Office report found that many GPs were seriously worried about the effects of the Secretary of State's patient choice policy on equity in the NHS, can he tell us what measures will be taken to address the real concerns of practitioners up and down the country? Does he agree that the NHS at local level should have the maximum possible freedom to decide how best to meet the health needs of local people, and that meeting those local health needs rather than hitting politically dictated targets should be the priority?
The Secretary of State said that there would be no more hidden waiting lists, but when will that be? Will he agree to publish, before the election, the hidden waiting times for scans and tests so that people can judge the Government's record for themselves? Will he also confirm that his target is that by 2008 up to 15 per cent. of procedures paid for by the NHS will be undertaken by the private sector? Does that not mean that in future the private sector will no longer simply be adding extra capacity to the NHS but replacing existing quality NHS provision?
What assessment has the Secretary of State made of his targets for PCT budgets? Will he confirm that the guaranteed contract payments for independent treatment centres mean that they will be paid regardless of the work they do, and that that is why 73 per cent. of NHS chief executives say that that does not offer good value for the taxpayer? Will the Secretary of State tell us why he thinks that after eight years of Labour Government, top NHS managers describe his approach as political, prescriptive and bullying?
More people are getting sicker in the NHS because of superbugs. More people are having difficulty in finding dentists on the NHS. More people are struggling to get appointments with GPs when they want them, and more people are waiting on hidden lists for scans and tests. That is the Government's real record, and that is what will count with our constituents.