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Hospital And Health Plans

Volume 130: debated on Monday 21 March 1988

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11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Wales what steps he will take to ensure full public availability of financial information on hospital and other health plans in South Glamorgan and in Wales as a whole.

It is already my right hon. Friend's policy that the strategic health service plans submitted to him for his approval by health authorities should contain a reconciliation of the district's service objectives and priorities with the resource assumptions provided by the Department.

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for that reply, and I am sure he will share my concern that a letter that I received this weekend from the chairman of the health authority seems to suggest that two promises will be broken. The first was that full financial information would be made available, although delayed from the date in December that was originally promised. The second was that the consultation period would be extended for the financial appraisal to be taken into account. Obviously, if the information was not made available, the extension will not make much sense.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the matter is of grave concern, and that it is impossible for us in the South Glamorgan area to take a sensible part in discussion about the plans? Will he draw to the attention of the chairman of the health authority the very sensible reply that he gave to my first question?

I am unable to comment on any promise that may or may not have been made to the hon. Gentleman. On the other hand, I think he will understand that, in the initial stages of consultation, it is not normal for the financial implications to be spelt out. Normally, that comes later. As far as I can see, the procedure is following its ordinary course and the guidelines laid down by the Welsh Office.

Will the Minister tell the House how much it would cost to reopen the high dependency unit in St. Tydfil hospital in Merthyr Tydfil? Can he give no fresh hope that extra resources will be provided to reopen the unit, which has £120,000 of equipment lying idle?

I see that the Mid-Glamorgan health authority has stated its intention to operate the unit in the long-term and that there is no question of closing it. It also claims that it is making a saving, with only three places operative up to this date, of some £30,000.

Will my hon. Friend consider seriously the representations that he is receiving from the Pembrokeshire health authority concerning the roof of Withybush hospital, which has been seriously damaged in recent years because of its construction? The health authority is expected to find the £500,000 to repair it when, in the first place, it was built under Welsh Office construction supervision. Moreover, its quality was seriously reduced because of the cuts under the last Government.

We are in negotiation with the Pembrokeshire health authority, to which we have made an offer.

Will the Minister also give an undertaking to reveal the financial and health costs of introducing charges for eye tests? Are such charges not likely to hinder detection of illness and lead to a further deterioration in the health of the people of Wales? By supporting the charges—as he is on record as doing—in conjunction with the massive tax handouts which will largely benefit the south-east of England, is the Minister not proving himself yet again to be a defender of the indefensible?

I shall ignore the second half of that question. I think that the hon. Gentleman knows the argument very well. We do not expect that those who pay for the eye tests—and many, as he knows, will not—will pay £10, the figure that has been put around. They may not be charged at all, because of competition. Opticians will still be under an obligation to report any disease or injury to the general practitioners of their patients, so there should be no spread of disease —despite what has, unfortunately and rather irresponsibly, been put around.