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Health Service, Tayside

Volume 175: debated on Wednesday 4 July 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next intends to visit Tayside to discuss the health service.

My right hon. and learned Friend has no plans to do so at the present time.

If the Minister decides to visit Tayside, instead of using his ministerial car will he perhaps get on his mountain bike, with which he featured in the newspapers on Sunday? While he is taking his time over the Ochil hills to Tayside, will he consider the £1.8 million underfunding of pay awards in Tayside which blows the myth that privatisation will be good for the health service? Have not any savings from privatisation been more than offset by the underfunding of pay awards?

It is a fact that what the hon. Gentleman calls privatisation—which is competitive tendering—has made £80 million available for patient care in the health service. It is also a fact that the Labour party has committed itself to abolishing competitive tendering, in the unlikely event of its taking office. We have had no explanation of where the extra £80 million would come from. The health service has never been better funded. Funding has increased by more than one third in real terms, and the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the service development that has taken place in Tayside.

When my hon. Friend meets Tayside health board will he draw its attention to the fact that it is probably the finest health board offering the best value services anywhere in the country? Nevertheless, there are causes for concern. For instance, Stracathro hospital is under threat. Moreover, it is to be hoped that the self-governing hospital proposals in Forfar which are very welcome will now be seen to be producing results.

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the exciting proposals for self-governing status which have come from the doctors in Forfar, and to what has been achieved in Tayside. In common with other health boards, those in Scotland are now treating far more patients and making significant inroads into reducing waiting lists and waiting times.

Does the Minister understand the widespread anger about, and opposition to, Tayside health board's rundown, closure and withdrawal of hospital services throughout Angus? How can the Minister justify the closure of specialist services at Arbroath infirmary, and the possible closure or rundown of maternity services in Arbroath, Brechin, Forfar and Montrose and of orthopaedic, general and emergency services at Stracathro, as well as the closure of perfectly viable laundry services at Sunnyside hospital? Is that what the Tories mean when they say that the NHS is safe in their hands?

If the hon. Gentleman arranges to come and see me to discuss these matters—which he has not done—I shall explain the background to them. The hon. Gentleman asked me to justify the changes. The reason is perfectly simple: the medical advice that we are receiving in respect of maternity services suggests that they should be provided where the full range of services provided by a district general hospital are available. A balance has to be struck between meeting the needs of rural areas and meeting the requirements of patient safety. The hon. Gentleman will have to take a more sophisticated approach to these matters if he wishes to continue to represent the interests of his constituents.

Will my hon. Friend pay particular attention to the future of Stracathro hospital, which serves part of my constituency and where many of my constituents are members of staff? Will he acknowledge that many of us would find it intolerable if the services of that hospital were so whittled away that there was no general hospital between Aberdeen and Dundee?

The reforms that we propose for the health service will mean that hospitals will be able to attract funds according to the patients whom they treat and the services that they provide. To hospitals such as Stracathro—which I know well because it is in the area where I was brought up—the White Paper proposals and particularly the option of self-governing status offer new opportunities.