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Nhs Inflation

Volume 175: debated on Tuesday 3 July 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health what is the latest estimate for national health service inflation for the remainder of the current financial year.

The Government do not make estimates of inflation in the national health service before the end of the financial year concerned.

Is not the underfunding of the national health service for inflation one reason why the service is starved of cash? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the financial crisis in the North East Thames region that has led to the postponement of phase 3 of Newham general hospital? It was promised in 1984, but has now been scrapped, and that has led to a sense of betrayal in Newham.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the growing and projected population moving into London's docklands and the need for health facilities for them, which have been mentioned by the district health authority and London Docklands development corporation in representations to his Department and the Department of Environment? Nothing has been done. Why? Will he do something about that? Will he review the position of health services in the London borough of Newham?

The health service is not underfunded. Indeed, the resources available to it have grown so fast that we are now spending almost half as much again, over and above inflation, as the previous Labour Government were spending when they left office. This year, health authorities have at least an additional 4 per cent., ahead of inflation, in their coffers compared with last year.

I am aware of the postponement of the hospital in Newham. It is an unfortunate result of the fact that the North East Thames capital programme was racing ahead, partly on the basis of land sales in a booming property market. Those land sales have now slowed and the region has had to review its programme. I agree that it is a serious problem and, together with the regional health authorities, I shall continue to review the capital programmes, and especially that of the North East Thames region.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend clarify a point recently announced in the press—that some districts will not be required to achieve a level playing field by the beginning of the next financial year? If that is the case, why should others suffer?

No one is suffering, because it has always been a requirement that all parts of the national health service should live within the growing amount of resources available to it. All districts have always been expected to keep within those resources, and they are being urged to do so now.

I accept that one or two district health authorities may not manage to do that this year, but we will accept that only on the basis that they are well on course to eliminating the deficits as quickly as possible thereafter.

Will the Secretary of State make good the underfunding of Camberwell district health authority? Is he aware that tomorrow night that health authority will consider proposals to cut 106 beds and begin the reduction of its junior medical staff by up to 40 doctors? Does not he think that people in south London and throughout the country will be disgusted by the fact that, with hospitals in south London facing £3 million of cuts this year, he is prepared to spend £3 million of taxpayers' money on propaganda leaflets?

The system of cash limits in the national health service was introduced by the previous Labour Government. It was a wise move, and I am sure that no future Government will remove cash limits from the national health service.

The cash limits for Camberwell or, indeed, anywhere else vastly exceed the levels expected when Labour was last in power. It remains a fact that all parts of the national health service are expected to deliver their services within the growing resources allocated to them. Sometimes they can cut beds and facilities and switch the money saved to more important parts of the service or use it to maintain the number of patient treatments at reduced cost. That is part of managing the health service and Camberwell, like every other district, sometimes has to face difficult decisions about how best to maintain high-quality services within the resources available.

I will, with permission, Mr. Speaker, answer questions Nos. 2, 3, 6, 7, 10 and 15 together at 3.30 pm.