NHS (Private Sector)

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 9:27 pm on 16th January 2012.

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Photo of Daniel Poulter Daniel Poulter Conservative, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich 9:27 pm, 16th January 2012

It is always a great pleasure to follow Frank Dobson, but he was rather disingenuous about my right hon. Friend Mr Dorrell. My right hon. Friend said—I think we all agree about it—that where the private sector can add value for money and add value to patient care that always has to be a good thing, as well as something that I think Members on both sides of the House agree on.

My right hon. Friend made the point, which was also well made by Andy Burnham, that this is not a debate about whether the private sector is a good thing or a bad thing in the NHS; it is a good thing, clearly, where it improves care for patients and offers high-quality patient care. The debate is about whether having a cap on the role of the private sector in foundation trusts is a good thing.

It appears that the private patient cap is set arbitrarily and varies from trust to trust. On the basis of what we know, it is difficult simply to argue that having the private sector heavily involved in the workings of a trust is necessarily a bad thing. We know that the 30% private sector activity at the Royal Marsden is hugely beneficial—not only to the private patients, but to those patients looked after by the Royal Marsden who are NHS patients. We see the same at the Royal Brompton, Moorfields and many other hospitals with a relatively high private patient cap. At those hospitals, the money raised from private activities and the private sector is pumped back into the hospital to improve research and to provide high-quality patient care for all NHS patients at those hospitals. Simply saying that having the private sector involved in a hospital to a larger extent is a bad thing because it compromises patient care is plainly not the case. Some of the best hospitals make the case that, in fact, a cap set at a high level is right. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, at hospitals such as the Marsden, even when they could set 30% private activity, they use only a proportion of that cap, because what they look at first is their primary duty to their NHS patients and their primary duty to provide high-quality care.

It is difficult to argue for a cap set at an arbitrary level, because what everyone in the NHS is interested in, and what we in Parliament are interested in, is producing high-quality patient care. In that respect, my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood was absolutely right. Tony Blair believed that, and it was at the heart of his health care reforms. In that respect, the Government are carrying forward the mantra of patients’ best interests.

I have discussed a little the fact that an arbitrary cap does not work, and is not in patients’ best interests. I have also discussed the benefits that involving the private sector in hospitals can bring to NHS patients. The good thing about those hospitals, particularly the Royal Brompton and the Royal Marsden, which are centres of excellence, is the fact that private sector involvement improves the quality and the output of medical research. That is another reason why those hospitals are pioneering examples of high-quality patient research, which benefits patients, particularly in the NHS. This is a good motion, as it endorses the role of the private sector, which can be a good thing as long as it is for the benefit of patients. However, it is a bad thing to impose arbitrary caps that do not benefit patients.