NHS Services (Economic Downturn)

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 24th March 2009.

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Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 2:30 pm, 24th March 2009

What assessment he has made of the likely effect on demand for NHS services of the economic downturn; and if he will make a statement.

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Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (South West), The Minister of State, Department of Health

The evidence from Britain and other countries is that demand for health services increases in an economic downturn. However, thanks to funding already agreed for the period to 2011, we believe that the NHS is in a strong position to manage this well.

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Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley

As more and more families pull out of private health care, what pressure is the Minister seeing on primary care providers, and what assessment has he made of how well they are able to cope?

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Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (South West), The Minister of State, Department of Health

It is quite difficult to get reliable figures on how many people withdraw from private health care, as it is obviously a matter for the private sector itself. A few months ago, Laing and Buisson said—the hon. Gentleman may have picked it up—that there has been a 10 per cent. reduction in people deciding to pay privately for their operations, but that actually preceded the economic downturn. Laing and Buisson believes that it has more to do with the very short waiting times on the NHS: there is now almost no difference at all between waiting times in the NHS and waiting times in the private sector. We are confident that, given the increase in investment that the NHS will receive over the next two years, even if all the people in this country choose to use NHS care—I hope that they would like to do so, given the short waiting times—the NHS will be able to cope very well.

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Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Labour, Brent North

My hon. Friend will be aware of the problems that Brent primary care trust was facing a couple of years ago with a £25 million deficit, so will he join me in congratulating Brent for turning that deficit into a projected £12 million surplus this year, which means that more services are now being directed to the right people in my local area?

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Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (South West), The Minister of State, Department of Health

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that two or three years ago, Brent PCT was in a parlous state. In fact, as recently as three years ago, 104 NHS organisations were in deficit, whereas now the figure is just 3 per cent. There has been a remarkable turnaround, so I would like to pay tribute not only to the management of the PCT in my hon. Friend's area—as he rightly says, the PCT will now be able to deliver sustainable and constantly improving NHS services to his constituents—but to all the managers throughout the country who have turned around their health care organisations in such a way.

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Photo of David Tredinnick David Tredinnick Conservative, Bosworth

Many of my constituents are very worried about the possibility that the proposed redevelopment of Hinckley and Bosworth community hospital will not go ahead because of the economic downturn. Will the Minister please look into the proposed public-private partnership, hold discussions with Leicestershire County and Rutland primary care trust, and then write to me?

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Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (South West), The Minister of State, Department of Health

I shall be happy to do that. It is worth mentioning that a week or two ago our ministerial colleagues in the Treasury made an important announcement about the PFI which I hope will prevent the outcome at the hospital that the hon. Gentleman fears, but I will happily write to him to confirm that.

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Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Labour, Chorley

My hon. Friend is aware of the effects of the economic downturn and the pressures that it has placed on the NHS, but is he aware that those effects are nowhere more evident than in the mental health service? People really do suffer, and we always feel that the mental health service is underfunded. Will my hon. Friend ensure that more resources will be provided if they are required, given that there will certainly be further pressure on the service in the future?

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Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (South West), The Minister of State, Department of Health

Yes. Labour Members certainly do not agree with the Conservatives that a recession is good for people's health. We know from experience both in this country and abroad that when it comes to such issues as mental health, more men consult their GPs if they are unemployed. That can be an advantage, as men are notoriously reluctant to seek health care and advice. However, as my hon. Friend will know, mental health funding has risen by 40 per cent. in real terms in the last seven years. We do not think that the recession should just take its course, we do not think that it is a price worth paying, and we will be there to ensure that the NHS supports people who may be affected by the economic downturn.

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Photo of John Leech John Leech Shadow Minister (Transport)

If demand for the NHS is increasing during the economic downturn, it is even more vital for hospitals that have lost money in collapsed Icelandic banks to get that money back. Given the Prime Minister's recent comments in Manchester about Christie hospital's missing £7.5 million, what is the Department doing to ensure that Christie gets its money back?

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Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (South West), The Minister of State, Department of Health

We are working closely with both Christie and the other hospital that has money in Icelandic banks. We are also working to ensure that all charities that are eligible claimants under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme receive their money in full.

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Photo of Jim Sheridan Jim Sheridan Labour, Paisley and Renfrewshire North

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that it is wrong to suggest that a recession is good for people, particularly an economic downturn of this kind. Can he assure us that he will continue to focus investment on public services such as the NHS, and will not be diverted into cutting taxes such as inheritance tax?

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Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (South West), The Minister of State, Department of Health

Yes. I think that we will face a clear choice at the next general election, between a Labour Government who are committed to continuing sustained investment in the NHS and a Conservative party which is committed to a tax cut for millionaires.

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