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In my constituency, waiting times for operations are much lower than they used to be, thanks to investment by this Government. When I was first elected in 1997, I was besieged by constituents waiting for hip operations. The choice that faced them was between using their hard-earned savings to jump the queue and pay for a private operation, and waiting even longer for NHS treatment that required the same surgery, often by the same surgeon. I am disturbed by reports that hip operations will attract charges of £6,000. Has my right hon. Friend made an assessment of how soon those charges—
Order. That point has already been mentioned in questions today. The hon. Lady took far too long on her supplementary question. I call Mr. McLoughlin.
Can the Secretary of State confirm some figures that I saw at the weekend? They showed that seven years ago only 1 per cent. of BUPA's business came via the national health service, but that the figure is now 10 per cent. I congratulate the Government on that, but can he tell me who is paying and how much?
Yes, I can tell the hon. Gentleman. The NHS is prepared to purchase in bulk operations from the independent sector to complement an expanding NHS, and every one of those operations is delivered free to patients in the NHS. I will continue both to expand the NHS and to purchase from the independent sector where appropriate, but I give the hon. Gentleman a guarantee that patients will never be charged, not £6,000, but £7,750 for a hip operation. One of the reasons why there is such affection for that uniquely British institution, the national health service, is precisely because it enshrines the uniquely British sense of fair play, which dictates that people's access to operations and the speed of their treatment is determined solely by clinical need, never by the size of their wallet. As long as the Labour Government are in power that will remain the case.
The people of south Manchester will welcome the fact that they will not be charged for their care at the magnificent new Withington community hospital, which opens its doors next week. I invite the Secretary of State to visit Withington at the earliest opportunity, to pay tribute to the thousands of people who campaigned for the hospital and to the officers of South Manchester primary care trust, especially the project director Joe Ranson, who delivered the project on time.
Will my right hon. Friend also consider carefully the capital scheme—
Order. That is more than one supplementary.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the work being done by NHS staff in his constituency, and I will certainly consider his courteous invitation. Too often it is only what goes wrong in the NHS that is mentioned, but we should always be prepared to recognise the huge reservoir of comfort that the NHS brings to so many people. As far as patients are concerned, we will continue to expand the NHS, we will continue to purchase outside the NHS and deliver those operations free, and we will continue to extend choice. I make this promise: the only thing that patients will have to take to their doctor under our proposals is their diary, to fit in appointments that are convenient for them, not their cheque book.