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NHS Funding

Volume 531: debated on Tuesday 12 July 2011

1. What arrangements are in place to ensure increased funding for the NHS during the comprehensive spending review period. (65106)

We will increase NHS funding in real terms in each year of this Parliament. Compared to the level of expenditure in the national health service in the last financial year, the resources available to the NHS will increase by £12.5 billion by the end of the spending review period. The budget available for the NHS in the financial year 2011-12 is 3.9% higher than spend in the previous year, 2010-11.

Can my right hon. Friend give me any examples of how the increased funding this Government have promised here in England is, unlike what is happening in Wales, delivering better care for our NHS services?

Yes, I can indeed do that. We are committed to real-terms increases in the NHS budget in England. According to an analysis by the King’s Fund, the Welsh Assembly Government—a Labour-led Welsh Government —are going to reduce the NHS budget by 8.3% in real terms by 2013-14 in comparison with 2010-11. That might be one reason why it is already the case that in Wales, 26.4% of patients in April 2011 waited more than 18 weeks for treatment.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that his definition of a real-terms increase is based on a 2.9% figure? Will he also confirm that the retail price index actually stands at 5%, so any claim that he is increasing the NHS budget in real terms is a complete and total con?

I think that it has been conventional over many years for the calculation of real terms in public accounting to use the GDP deflator. Given that it includes the prices of investment goods, Government services and exports and subtracts the price of UK imports, it gives a more appropriate overall measure of inflation.

Does my right hon. Friend welcome the increase in the NHS West Sussex budget of £35 million this year, which, coupled with the provisions of the Health and Social Care Bill, means that we will have far greater patient choice in our local area?

Yes, I do indeed welcome that. We all know that last year, this year and in future years, increases in the NHS budget in real terms will not be the kind of real-terms increases we saw in the past, but they will be real-terms increases. What we are already seeing in the NHS—we saw it last year—is that with a 2.2% increase in cash spending, there is none the less an ability to sustain, and in many respects improve, performance.

In spite of the spin, the truth is that the Prime Minister’s personal promise to give the NHS a real rise in funding is being broken. It is not just how much that counts; it is how well the money is spent. Today it is one year to the very day since the Health Secretary launched the Government’s plans to “liberate” the NHS. He told the House:

“we will phase out the top-down management hierarchy”—[Official Report, 12 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 663.]

He said that he would reduce “the number and cost” of NHS-related quangos, so why is he setting up the new national commissioning board, set to employ 3,500 people, when even its chief executive says that it

“could become the greatest quango in the sky we have seen”.

Why is the right hon. Gentleman setting up more than 500 public bodies in the NHS when 161 do the job now, and why are the Government wasting precious NHS funding on the biggest reorganisation in history, when it could and should be spent on patient care?

Since the election we have reduced the number of managers in the NHS by more than 4,000 and increased the number of doctors by more than 2,000. The NHS commissioning board—I did not hear from the right hon. Gentleman whether he supports it—is part of our strategy to give the NHS not only local clinical leadership but national leadership through it. The functions covered by the board are currently undertaken by something approaching 8,000 staff; the number delivering those functions in future will go down to 3,500 staff, so the reduction in administration will be dramatic.

We had plans to reduce bureaucracy, which were published, and we also said that the Government should keep Labour’s waiting time guarantees for patients, which the Health Secretary told the House a year ago today were “unjustified” targets, which he would remove. The Prime Minister has now promised to keep waiting times low, but after one wasted year of NHS reorganisation by the right hon. Gentleman’s Government, an extra 25,000 patients a month are waiting more than four hours in accident and emergency departments, an extra 12,000 patients a month are waiting more than six weeks for tests, and an extra 2,300 patients a month are waiting more than 18 weeks to get into hospital for the treatment they need. The NHS deputy chief executive has called the rise in long waiting times this year “unacceptable”. Does the Health Secretary agree?

As we said in the NHS constitution, we do not intend patients to be waiting for more than 18 weeks. [Hon. Members: “They are!”] The April figures show that we met the operational standard, which is that more than 90% of admitted patients and more than 95% of non-admitted patients should be treated within 18 weeks. The right hon. Gentleman’s analysis of waiting times did not include the fact that the average time for which patients waited for treatment in April was 7.7 weeks, down from 8.4 weeks in May 2010. The average time for which patients wait is being reduced.