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Health Authorities (Market Testing)

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 market testing by health authorities. [35784]

Market testing by trusts has proved very successful in generating savings for the national health service. Approximately £1 billion has been saved since it started. Health authorities are increasingly using the same techniques, although the available alternative would normally be an NHS trust.

Can my hon. Friend confirm that South Humber health authority intends to submit the ambulance service to market testing? While I accept and acknowledge that savings can be made, will he confirm that the health authority has no preferred option until the Humberside ambulance service has had an opportunity to ensure that its service is tested so that the benefits so far obtained can be acknowledged by the health authority?

I can confirm that there is no preferred option. I am concerned to ensure that, in such instances, there is absolutely fair play. I have gone into those and other instances carefully. Accusations of unfair play are usually made on behalf of the bidder, not the existing provider. I assure my hon. Friend that the regional office will ensure that there is fair play in the case that he mentioned.

Does the Minister recognise that a consequence of market testing at Hillingdon hospital in west London is that 54 cleaners, some of whom have worked there for 30 years, have been dismissed by the Pall Mall Services Group for refusing to take a pay cut of £35 a week? Does he not think that market testing is responsible for poverty wages for loyal workers within the national health service? Should not those 54 cleaners be reinstated on national health service conditions and repaid for the whole period for which they have been out of work because of the Pall Mall group's determination to make profits at the expense of loyal workers in the NHS?

On the contrary, the Pall Mall group, which adequately resources all the services that it provides, gives the workers in question rates that are above the nearest comparator—Heathrow. In the circumstances, they are well paid for the work that they do. In addition, they all received a lump sum to do away with the work restraints that they were putting on the service.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the money saved through market testing is in addition to the extra money that the Government have made available for the health service? Will he also confirm that the Opposition have pledged not a penny of additional money for the health service?

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. The £1 billion that has been saved since 1983 as a result of successful market testing, which has not only saved money but improved quality in many cases, should be set against the paltry £100 million which the Opposition allege that they could save and thereby transform the health service. They should make it plain what we would lose through that "efficiency" if ever there were a Labour Government, not what they would hope to gain.