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Budget Deficits

Volume 401: debated on Tuesday 18 March 2003

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What recent advice he has given to (a) strategic health authorities and (b) local health economies on dealing with projected budget deficits. [103206]

All NHS organisations have been asked to plan for financial balance. We have asked strategic health authorities and their local health economies to work together to ensure that this is achieved. Primary care trusts have an important role to play in commissioning quality and affordable services from local trusts within the resources available.

Is part of the Minister's advice that the NHS locally should sack good chief executives or encourage them to resign when there is a deficit, like the £18 million deficit at the Oxford Radcliffe hospital, where David Highton, recognised as one of the best chief executives in the country, has resigned because he has been unable to achieve financial balance and meet the Government's targets because of the millions of pounds that he has had to spend on agency nurses to create the capacity that the hon. Lady's Government have failed to achieve in the Oxford area?

The hon. Gentleman knows that management issues are a matter for the local trust, not for Ministers. He also knows that because of our ambitions for the service, there are indeed pressures on many health economies throughout the country because of our need to increase capacity and give patients more access to the service. He knows that we have the biggest increase in investment that the NHS has ever known—a 7.5 per cent. real terms increase for the next five years. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome the massive investment that there has been in his community in the form of the new trauma centre, an increase in prescribing budgets, an increase in money for coronary heart disease and a range of other services in his local area. [Interruption.] There are challenges for the PCTs to face, but the investment is without question the largest that the NHS has ever known.

Order. May I once again appeal to the House to be much quieter? I can hardly hear the questions and answers and it is unfair if hon. Members cannot hear what the Minister is saying or if the Minister cannot hear the questioner.

When we visited the Minister recently to talk to her about the deficit of the Kennet and North Wiltshire primary care trust, she expressed what can best be described as indifference to its indebtedness. That means that there is now a threat to the local hospitals in Malmesbury and Devizes, just outside my constituency. Does she regret that indifference and does she believe that there is anything that can she do about the issue? What will she do to save Malmesbury hospital?

I had an extremely constructive meeting, not with the hon. Gentleman, but with his colleague, the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), and the chairman and chief executive of the local primary care trust, who showed me that they were determined to ensure that they could improve services for that local community. They are under financial pressure, but they have had an extra £45 million of investment in their local health services. I say to him that the comments that he has made in his local press about my alleged remarks are entirely untrue and a travesty of the meeting that I held with him. I am always willing to help local Members of Parliament, but in this case, he has not shown the necessary support to his local health community.