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Purchasing Costs

Volume 281: debated on Tuesday 16 July 1996

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7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what monitoring he is currently undertaking of purchasing costs. [35788]

Our continuing aim is to improve care for patients and to shorten waiting times, while minimising costs. Following our latest scrutiny, we plan to reduce administration costs by £40 million—money that can be freed for wider national health service investment.

I make no apologies for returning to the effects of the common market—the internal market—and the impact that it is having in Salford in my constituency. As a consequence, we need more nurses and doctors and more patient care. We do not need the cuts that are now taking place in the national health service as a result of the internal market. What will the Minister do about that?

I think that the right hon. Gentleman perhaps returned inadvertently to a feud of yesteryear within his party which might be reflected in present discussions about the health service and how to take matters forward.

I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that, while Opposition Front Benchers talk in absurd terms about £15 billion one day and £100 million the next, the Government have been getting on with pruning bureaucracy where possible. For example, the efficiency scrutiny, "Seeing the Wood, Sparing the Trees", which deals precisely with the purchasing mechanism, will release £40 million for patient care. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman might welcome that.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that fundholding practitioners, which are important in purchasing services and treatment, are able to carry over funds from year to year? If that is so, can my hon. Friend explain why trust hospitals and trusts, such as the East Cheshire NHS trust, are not also able to carry over funds from one year to another in order to take account of exceptional circumstances that occur from time to time? That would surely encourage efficiency and enable trusts to meet exceptional costs without difficulty.

My hon. Friend, as an expert in such matters, will know that there are controls on both. If GP fundholders manage to make savings in any given year, they are able to adjust—together with the health authority—the plans to purchase additional care for patients. We expect hospital trusts to manage their budgets in a sensible way and, if there are differences from year to year, we expect them to manage that over time.