Skip to main content

Private Sector

Volume 456: debated on Tuesday 6 February 2007

Improving public health relies on the engagement of many partners in the private, public and voluntary sectors, as well as individuals and their families. There are many examples of private sector employers making a positive contribution, and of key agents contributing to improving public health.

Contrary to what the Secretary of State told my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) a few moments ago, the Government gave PCTs no choice but to enter into private contracts with providers of non-complex, non-urgent procedures. Those private treatment centres are still being paid regardless of whether they complete the work. Have the Minister and the Government made any assessment of how much taxpayers’ money has been wasted on those contracts, and on contracts like them?

What is clear is that 480,000 people have already benefited from access to independent treatment centres. The way in which the NHS used to buy from the independent sector—the old-style ad hoc spot-purchase procedure—led to the paying out of more than 40 per cent. of the cost of the same sort of service. Bulk procurement has cut the cost of doing business with the independent sector.

I am pleased to say that the Plymouth and Bodmin treatment centres are on target for up to 100 per cent. capacity. I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not want to suggest that his constituents should not benefit from quicker and good access to health care.

I was very taken when I visited a pharmacist in my constituency recently—Coopers chemist on Abel street in Burnley—by quite how much work it does in the field of public health, such as in methadone administration and smoking cessation. Is that a model that my hon. Friend the Minister hopes to build on?

I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution. Our partnership with pharmacists has grown and grown. Chlamydia testing is happening throughout London through Boots, many pharmacists provide blood pressure testing, and I am pleased to say that next week the Co-op is promoting condom use as part of our safe sex strategy. I will be down at the Co-op in Rossington to support that, and I hope that every Member will take the opportunity to support their local Co-op in promoting good sexual health. However, we have not begun to realise the contribution that pharmacists can make in providing the best quality services at the most local level for the people whom we all represent.

Wilson, Mr. Speaker; nearly there.

Is the Minister aware that recent research has found that when a hospital is built on a 30-year private finance initiative basis, the taxpayer ends up footing a bill of £55 billion for only £8 billion-worth of investment in capital assets? Does the Minister think that that is good value for money?

Of course we are not just talking about paying for the building; we are paying for the services as well. We should also be mindful of the fact that when we came to power in 1997 much of NHS stock predated the establishment of the national health service. I am proud that we have been behind a major hospital-building programme—not only hospitals, but LIFT projects—and that we have been working with different partners in the community to provide the best possible health service for all the people of England.

Is not the private sector’s involvement in public health through the food industry’s guideline daily amount food labelling system confusing, complex and requiring of a certain strenuous level of mental arithmetic? Is it not really an attempt to undermine the Food Standards Agency’s traffic light system? I can say with some personal authority that showing the red light to fat, sugar and salt is the correct thing to do.

It is fantastic that a discussion about which system should be displayed on the front of our packets of meals of whatever sort—such as shepherd’s pie or soup—has become so prominent in public debate. I personally think that the colour-coded traffic light is easy to glance at, but we, along with the industry and the FSA, have commissioned some independent research to find out what works best for consumers. I would not mind if we had a mixture of both GDA and traffic light; I think that that would be helpful. However, what is important is that we have something that is simple for the public to understand.

Has any assessment been made of the impact that the proposed independent treatment centre at Braintree might have on the Broomfield hospital PFI scheme? Will the Minister be kind enough to ask her hon. Friend the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), the answer to Question 18, so that she can tell me when it is expected that that scheme will get the go-ahead—or that it will not?

I understand that there will be announcements soon, and intensive discussions are taking place between the trust, the strategic health authority and officials to conclude the rescoping exercise. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister of State has heard the hon. Gentleman’s point about where the independent treatment centres fit into that jigsaw.