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Health Service Redundancies

Volume 515: debated on Tuesday 7 September 2010

3. What estimate he has made of the number of redundancies which would result from the abolition of strategic health authorities and primary care trusts? (13149)

Our White Paper set out proposals for greater devolution to clinical leadership in the NHS and an enhanced role for local authorities in setting health strategies and improving public health. That means that we will abolish primary care trusts and strategic health authorities. General practice-led consortiums will make decisions about their requirements for management support, as will the new NHS commissioning board and local authorities. However, the requirement to cut management costs and protect the front line will mean reduced numbers of administrative posts. The extent of that will depend on local plans, and we will publish an impact assessment in due course.

The coalition agreement stated that PCTs would be a strong voice for the public. How will the Government achieve that if they are going to abolish them?

We set out clearly in the White Paper how we will increase accountability to the public, including by establishing Health Watch. Before the election, the hon. Gentleman’s party’s Government demolished the patient representative voice in community health councils and patients’ forums and created nothing effective in its place. Health Watch will be an effective voice for patients, and democratic accountability through local authorities will be far stronger because Health Watch will enable NHS services, public health services and social care to be joined together through co-ordination in a local authority’s health and well-being partnership.

On the question of redundancies, the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) and I represent adjacent constituencies covered by the same NHS trust, in which there is currently a review of urgent care provision at the hospital of St Cross in my constituency. Candidates for the Labour leadership recently visited the area, and one spoke to the Rugby Advertiser about his concern that the review was an example of the

“economic masochism being unveiled across the country by the Tories who continue to show no compassion for the vulnerable.”

Does the Secretary of State share my outrage at the choice of language by the likely Leader of the Opposition, and will he confirm that since this Government have committed themselves to real-terms increases in NHS funding, any reforms considered for Rugby will have nothing to do with the amount of funding for the local NHS?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We visited St Cross hospital together, so he knows the importance that we both attach to the service that is provided there for his constituents locally, but that happens in the context of the resources that we provide to enable the NHS to do its job. The Government have made an historic commitment to increase resources for the NHS in real terms each year, notwithstanding the appalling financial circumstances that we inherited from the Labour party.

The policy of the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) is to cut the NHS budget. Under those circumstances and under the policies of the Labour party, the number of redundancies in the NHS would proliferate.

The right hon. Gentleman is planning the biggest reorganisation in the history of the NHS, and yet he is unable to give basic information on it, such as how many people may lose their jobs, to my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham). Tens of thousands of people who work for primary care trusts and strategic health authorities are at risk of losing their jobs, so it is no wonder that after a just a few short weeks in his job, the Secretary of State has brought morale in the NHS to rock bottom.

In his letter to the NHS, the NHS chief executive says that £1.7 billion should be set aside to pay for the Secretary of State’s reorganisation. Others have said that the cost of his reform could be up to £3 billion. At a time when the NHS needs every penny to maintain standards of patient care, it is scandalous for money to be diverted in that way. He may be ignoring the human cost, but can he tell the House today his latest estimate from the Department of how much his ideological reorganisation will cost?

I do wish the right hon. Gentleman would at least remember what he was responsible for before the election. He said that the NHS in this financial year should set aside 2%—£1.7 billion—for the cost of reorganisation. I have not changed that figure by one penny. However, I have taken his policies, which led to a proliferation in management costs—an 80% increase in the cost of management consultants in the NHS in two years and a doubling of management costs in PCTs and SHAs in eight years—and reversed them. We are cutting management costs in the NHS this year by more than £220 million and by up to £1 billion over four years. I make no apology for that, because if we are to protect front-line services and improve health outcomes, that is exactly what we need to do.

Let us first get some facts straight. I asked PCTs to set aside money to invest in patient care, changing patient pathways and better services. I did not say that a Labour Government would cut the NHS budget; I said that we would maintain it in real terms, not increase it, as the Secretary of State proposes. The effect of his increase will mean severe cuts to councils, which need to provide care support to older people to get people out of hospital.

However, the Secretary of State would not today tell us what his proposals would cost. Is it not the case that the plans were not in the Conservative or Liberal Democrat manifestos, and that there is no democratic mandate for the break-up of the NHS? Given that there is now a chorus of protest at his plans, will he step back, listen to patients and staff and consult on those reforms before taking them forward further?

I and my colleagues are engaging right across the country with patients, the public, local authorities, PCTs and general practitioners, and we are meeting enthusiasm for our proposals. Why? Because we are focusing on delivering improving outcomes for patients, and doing so in the context of an historic commitment by this coalition Government to increase resources for the NHS in real terms each year. The right hon. Gentleman’s policy would be to cut the NHS budget.

The Secretary of State thinks he can behave any way he likes with the NHS, the most beloved institution in this country, but we will not let him—we will give him a fight every inch of the way. The latest example of his high-handed and arrogant behaviour came on the eve of a bank holiday weekend, when he casually let slip that NHS Direct would be scrapped. NHS Direct is a valued service that receives 27,000 calls every day and saves millions of pounds for the NHS, and that has more than 3,000 staff working for it. Will he today apologise for making that statement in such an outrageous manner? Will he listen to the 14,000 people who signed a petition to save NHS Direct, and going forward, stop acting in such a cavalier manner with our NHS?

Once again, the right hon. Gentleman should remember what he did before the election. A press release from his Department on 18 December 2009, when he was Secretary of State, said that he would establish a new 111 national number for non-emergency health care, and that this could become the single number to access non-emergency care services, including NHS Direct. I did not announce anything: I simply said that we were going to get on with that—he never did.