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Health Spending

Volume 408: debated on Tuesday 7 October 2003

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2.

If he will make a statement on progress towards bringing UK health spending into line with the EU average.[124643]

Health spending this year is now estimated at 8.1 per cent. of GDP—around the European Union average. It will rise to 9.4 per cent. of GDP by 2007–08.

I am grateful to the Chancellor for that response. I need not remind him of his manifesto commitment to bring spending up to the EU average, and his right hon. Friend's subsequent comments to that effect. The King's Fund detects a sleight of hand, however, and I would be grateful for clarification. Is the Chancellor relying on weighted or unweighted data in addressing that comparison? Will he look at a static or projected spend to the year 2005? In addition, will he rely on the Office for National Statistics recomputation of health spend, which takes in, for example, spending by charitable and voluntary sectors, churches, the prison health service and the defence medical services? Clearly that will have a big impact.

First, it is weighted data. Secondly, we cannot know in advance what all the other European countries will spend. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can deny, however, that we have the fastest rising health service budget of any of the countries in Europe. We are making a public commitment to the health services. In relation to the King's Fund, I am happy to look at any evidence that he brings to bear, but he cannot deny that we are raising health expenditure by £8 billion, £9 billion and £10 billion a year in future and successive years, which is more than the previous Government ever committed themselves to spending. I would have thought that he would congratulate us today, because his two local health authorities have seen rises in their health expenditure of 9.5, 9.9, 9.7 and 9.5 per cent., and 8.9, 9.1, 8.9 and 8.7 per cent. respectively. How could any of that be possible if there were 20 per cent. cuts in the health service budget?

Has my right hon. Friend considered the financial implications of some of the alternative ways of funding the health service? To pluck an example out of thin air, has he considered some kind of voucher scheme that would allow NHS patients to have their private care subsidised? Has he considered how much that would cost the country?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are spending 7.5 per cent. in real terms increases in the health service over the course of the next few years. Taxpayers, through the national insurance rise, are rightly contributing to the national health service increase. Every party at the last election stood on a manifesto supporting extra health service spending, but the Conservative party has walked away from the commitment. As far as the amounts of money that would be involved in a voucher system in private medical health insurance are concerned, something in the order of £2 billion extra a year would have to be taken from the national health service. That would still mean that a pensioner would pay £5,000 for a hip joint operation, £6,000 for a knee joint operation and £7,000 for a heart bypass. Those are the policies of the Conservative party.

The Chancellor says that the Government are delivering on improved health services, yet he will be aware of recent opinion polls that show that the public believe that health services, along with education, the police and transport, are all getting worse in this country. Who has got it wrong? Are the Government wrong on delivery, or are the public wrong?

There were 11.3 million out-patient admissions a year when we came into office. There are now 12.7 million. There were 12.5 million accident and emergency admissions. There are now 12.9 million. There were 3.5 million elective admissions. There are now 4.5 million. There were 39,000 heart operations. There are now 54,000. That is an increase in the amount of money and an increase in the amount of activity in the national health service. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman might care to comment on his party's spokesman, who now seems to be absent from all our debates on economic matters, who said very clearly that there would be no extra money for the health service from the Liberal party.

Is the Chancellor aware that I am pleased that Labour Members decided to increase massively the amount of money that goes into the national health service, because in the last few months I have been one of the recipients of that treatment? I did a survey while I was in hospital, and every single person regarded their heart bypass as a success story. When we walked out of the hospital, I was waiting for the BBC "Panorama" camera team to ask me whether I thought that the money spent on the NHS was a success story. I did not find a single member of the media waiting for us. Why? Because all they are bothered about is digging in the gutter and failing to recognise that 1 million people are looked after in the national health service every 36 hours. That is a success story not a failure.

The whole House will be able to see that my hon. Friend is back fighting fit after the great treatment that he has had in the national health service. We welcome him back, and the contribution that he has made.

I do not know what to say about the BBC and its programmes, but the fact is that there were 1.2 million cancer operations in the NHS when we came to power and there were 1.34 million last year. There has been a very big rise in the number of cancer patients treated. Equally, we are now in a position in which 98 per cent. of people are able to see a cancer specialist within two weeks. Under the Conservatives, the figure was 63 per cent.

Is the Chancellor not at least a little concerned that in one part of the United Kingdom, Scotland, health spending is already at or even above the European average, and yet health outcomes are substantially below?