NHS (Private Sector)

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 9:50 pm on 16th January 2012.

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Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns The Minister of State, Department of Health 9:50 pm, 16th January 2012

I did not in any shape or form suggest that the right hon. Gentleman’s figures were wrong. I argued that his arguments and his philosophy were wrong. They are based in a past time that is pre-Blair, let alone Blair, which I know is now anathema to the Labour party. Ironically, one might say, as I think did my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood, that Government Members, in this respect, are all Blairites now.

Rather than pour scorn on an invented problem, the Opposition should welcome the healthy relationship between the national health service and private providers—a relationship that is mutually beneficial, that has existed since 1948, that is better for patients and, I hesitate to remind the right hon. Member for Leigh, that flourished under his Government. The last Labour Government expanded the involvement of the private sector in the provision of NHS care in a way that no previous Conservative Government had done. Labour’s general election manifesto of 2010, which was written by the current Leader of the Opposition, said:

“We will support an active role for the independent sector working alongside the NHS in the provision of care”.

Rather more surprisingly, given the nature of today’s debate, the Labour manifesto also stated:

“Patients requiring elective care will have the right, in law, to choose from any provider who meets NHS standards of quality at NHS costs.”

To reinforce that, it went on to promise to remove the private patient cap on foundation trusts. In addition, on 8 February 2010—at No. 10 Downing street, no less—the now Leader of the Opposition and Tessa Jowell, who I believe is a close personal friend of the right hon. Member for Leigh, hosted a meeting with non-NHS providers to examine their future role in delivering NHS services, among other public services. There is a certain irony and nerve in Labour’s bringing this motion before the House tonight.

I remind Members of the benefits of extra income to the NHS, which are so clear as to be self-evident. Any and all money made by the NHS is returned straight into care, not to the Treasury. The principal purpose of NHS providers has always been to serve NHS patients, and that will not change. In fact, trusts say that changing the cap will help them do that better than ever. The Labour party knows that. In 2009, the then Health Minister, Mike O’Brien, said that to cap the number of private patients would be nothing but a sop to militant Labour MPs. It now seems, though, that they are all militant Labour MPs.

I know that he has not been the flavour of the month for a while now, but as none other than Tony Blair once said, the private sector

“has got a valuable role to play in delivering NHS services.”

Even Mr Brown called for greater use of the private sector.

I wish to take a second to look at the last Government’s record on using the private sector. Through choose and book and through giving patients the right of the choice of provider, the number of patients treated as NHS patients in the private sector escalated. Under choose and book alone, the number of procedures increased from only 11 in 2000-01 to more than 208,000 10 years later. By May 2010, more than 7% of all NHS-funded first out-patient appointments were booked with independent sector providers. In money terms, between 2006 and 2010, £12.6 billion was spent in the private sector on NHS health care.

Let us pick an example at random—say, independent sector treatment centre contracts. “Wonderful things”, said Labour. “Cutting waiting times”, it said. What happened? Private companies being paid even when they had not treated any patients; hundreds of millions of pounds being taken from the public purse and wasted; and the NHS barred from competing with private companies, even if it could offer a better service. What is more, seven of those ISTC contracts were signed while the right hon. Member for Leigh was a junior Minister at the Department of Health—hardly a glorious record.

My hon. Friends and I had a while in opposition, and I know how uncomfortable the Benches on that side of the House are. They make people itch—itch to disagree with everything that is said by Government Members. However, I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it is wrong to scaremonger about the role of the private sector in the NHS. As he found out in government, because his Government greatly expanded that role, there is a responsible role for the private sector not at the expense of the NHS but working with it. On that basis, I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the motion.