To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he last met chairmen of health trusts to discuss the impact of levels of health expenditure on the future supply of doctors from universities.
I have frequent meetings with chairmen of national health service trusts to discuss a range of issues, including how best to utilise the £459 million that trusts receive in recognition of the additional costs of teaching undergraduate medical and dental students.
Does the Minister agree that the Government's university funding cuts are having a severe effect on medical schools and, therefore, a direct impact on patient care? Is it not just plain folly for the Government to think that they can continue to cut medical school funding without ensuring that there will be a severe shortage of doctors in the future in the national health service?
The conclusion that the hon. Lady reaches is quite wrong. She recognises a point that was made by the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology in its report last year. The Government responded to the report by asking the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals for its view. That is why we set up the Richards review, which will report in due course. It will look at issues such as work load pressures, recruitment difficulties and future NHS support for new posts. The Government's continuing medical education policy aims to build upon the number of existing students. That is why we have announced an increase of 500 students before 2000, in order to build on our excellent record of creating more hospital doctors and more doctors per specialty than ever before.
Can my hon. Friend confirm that 22,500 more general practitioners and dentists are working in the health service now than in 1979? Is that not a clear result of the Government's unique commitment to extra funding for that purpose?
My hon. Friend is right, and that applies to all doctors and to all specialties across the health service. It illustrates the fact that the Government are prepared to back with action our commitment to invest in the national health service—unlike the Labour party, which refuses to put a precise figure on its projected investment in the NHS on a year-on-year basis.