As set out in the most recent financial report, it is now clear that the NHS will achieve the three financial targets set for this year while maintaining key service standards. Achieving financial balance this year means that the NHS will be in a far stronger position in the new financial year and, in particular, will be able to make substantial progress towards achieving the target of 18 weeks maximum from GP referral to hospital operation.
That was just typical: I asked three specific questions and received not a single reply from the Secretary of State. I thought that she would at least quote the results of the Health Service Journal survey of chief executives of trusts across the country, which revealed that 50 per cent. of primary care trusts are delaying operations; that 47 per cent. of all trusts may, have made or intend to make redundancies; and that 73 per cent. of PCTs are restricting access to treatment. Is not the conundrum this—that at a time when there is record cash going into the NHS and welcome investment in capital projects, we nevertheless have cuts in treatment? How can that be?
At least the hon. Gentleman and his party voted for those extra resources. I am surprised, however, that he did not refer to the fact that the NHS in Somerset will get additional funding of almost £120 million over the current year and next year. That is being reflected in the improvements taking place in Minehead hospital, the new cancer centre in Taunton and Somerset and the new community hospital at Frome. We believe that what we need is fair funding for the NHS—record funding for the NHS—and the best care for patients within the budget available. I know that the Liberal party has never been very keen on sound public finances or value for money, but the Government will continue to ensure that patients get the best possible value from the record investment that we have made.
Is my hospital trust typical? The university hospital of North Staffordshire announced 1,000 redundancies as a result of its deficit, but ultimately only 150 redundancies resulted, two thirds of which were voluntary. Clearly, any redundancy is a matter of regret, particularly in an area such as north Staffordshire, but where does that leave the Opposition’s claims of 20,000 redundancies nationwide?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point. In striking contrast to the scaremongering that we get from the Conservative party about 20,000 redundancies, over the current financial year there have been just over 1,400 redundancies, the great majority in management and administrative jobs. Although it is of course difficult for the individuals concerned—we are ensuring that the NHS supports them in these difficult times—it is very different from what the Conservative party and some of the media have been telling people.
What the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) failed to mention was that the Health Service Journal survey also revealed that seven out of 10 PCT chief executives agreed that patient care would suffer because of restricting access to treatments. Does the Secretary of State think that they should be applauded as good financial planners, encouraged by her Department to fudge the books and please the accountants, or is it a false economy that forces consultants to twiddle their thumbs for several months while sick patients are denied the treatments they need?
I very much regret the fact that the hon. Gentleman completely fails to give credit to the NHS managers and staff who, in a very difficult year, have got a grip on NHS finances and will achieve financial balance at the end of this month, putting the NHS in a far stronger position. May I suggest that he has a word with his hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley), just two seats along, who told the House only yesterday that it was the statutory responsibility of—