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Cumberland Infirmary

Volume 281: debated on Tuesday 16 July 1996

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on the proposed private finance initiative scheme for the Cumberland infirmary in Carlisle. [35789]

The scheme is progressing well. A preferred bidder has been identified and the full business case is expected to be submitted soon.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Does he realise that, when I spoke to the chief executive some three weeks ago, he talked of reducing the number of beds in the new hospital to 450? Since then, pressure has been applied by Cumbria county council, medical consultants and me and, fortunately, that figure has increased to 474—the minimum number necessary. Will the Minister clarify whether any of those beds will be private beds? Will he clarify also the funding of that scheme? It was anticipated originally that the single site would create savings of £1.2 million, but the latest estimate is that there will be a deficit of £500,000. Will that money come from the Government, or will it come directly out of patient care?

Let me correct the hon. Gentleman's original point about the number of beds. Two years ago, when the hospital was publicly funded, there were approximately 470, as there are now. There has been no change since then.

As for the hon. Gentleman's point about funding, the health authority and the trust are currently looking into precisely that issue.

If the PFI system were scrapped, would that not put at risk not only the Cumberland infirmary project in Carlisle but the Darenth Park proposal in my area? Would that risk not arise directly from the scrapping of the system, which is supported by the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman)—who does not propose, and is not being allowed to propose, putting in money from the taxpayer?

Absolutely. Many schemes all over the country, of which the Carlisle scheme is one, had to wait for nearly 30 years. They got nowhere with traditional funding. Now we are making progress everywhere. I must tell my hon. Friends that some hospitals would not be built if the Labour party's hostility to the private finance initiative were maintained. The PFI is our only hope when it comes to building some hospitals.

Is not the PFI in Carlisle in the same sorry state—the same mess—as it is everywhere else in the country? Have not Ministers been travelling up and down the country making promises, and, as they have in Carlisle, building up expectations on which they know that they cannot deliver? Is it not surprising that even the Prime Minister has been reported as saying that he is particularly anxious about health, no major PFI hospital deals having yet been signed?

Will the Minister now apologise to the House, and to the people of Carlisle and elsewhere, for the 17 per cent. cut in next year's national health service capital programme? Will he tell patients and clinicians in Carlisle, who have been waiting for years, when they will have a new hospital, and when the Government will put their PFI house in order?

The hon. Gentleman huffs and puffs a great deal, as he does at every Question Time when this subject arises. In fact, the PFI is proceeding extremely well. It is bringing the prospect of new hospitals, or hospital facilities, to places where such provision could not be envisaged under traditional procedures. One factor which stands in the way of that is the Labour party's old-fashioned attitude, which cannot conceive of the existence of new, radical measures to deal with the problem. The hon. Gentleman ought to realise that he is backing a loser.

Would my hon. Friend care to comment on the paradox that, while the deputy leader of the Labour party claims to have invented the PFI, Labour Back Benchers spend their time criticising it?