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Private Health Care

Volume 540: debated on Tuesday 21 February 2012

The Department has made no assessment of the future of private health care. This is not the role of the Department of Health. The private sector has always provided services to the NHS and the Department monitors trends where it does so—for example, the number of NHS patients choosing a private provider under patient choice.

Given that the Prime Minister said there would be no top-down reorganisation of the NHS, the coalition agreement ruled it out and nobody voted for it, what exactly is the Secretary of State’s mandate for turning the NHS into a “fantastic business”, as the Prime Minister has said?

I am extremely sorry if the hon. Lady really believes the mantra that she has just spewed out. If she had read pages 45 and 46 of our manifesto, she would have seen that it says that we would introduce clinical commissioning groups, take away political micro-management from Whitehall, free up the NHS and cut bureaucracy, as we are doing, which will save £4.5 billion to reinvest in the health service. Our coalition colleagues, the Liberal Democrats, had in their manifesto the abolition of SHAs. So I have to tell the hon. Lady that she is wrong. The test of what is going on and what is a success is the fact that if one meets GPs around the country, they support commissioning for their patients.

On the BBC’s “Newsnight”, the Minister of State stated that the Health and Social Care Bill would turn the NHS into a “genuine market”. How does this belief fit in with the NHS founding principle that access should be based on need, not market forces?

I am sorry—the hon. Lady has obviously not listened properly to me. It has been my guiding principle and my core belief from the day I entered politics that we should have a national health service free at the point of use for all those eligible to use it. In no shape or form does the Bill, or any actions by this Government, compromise that core belief of mine.

The Minister is aware that funding for the health service in Wales and Scotland is through the Barnett formula. For every pound saved by the Government—in other words, for every pound less spent per person in England—there is a knock-on consequence for the budgets in Wales and Scotland. What assessment has he made of the fact that he will be funding NHS provision from private patient fees, rather than the public purse?

As the hon. Gentleman knows better than I do, the running of the NHS in Scotland and Wales is a matter for the devolved authorities. I speak for the English NHS, and I can tell him that that we have guaranteed that the budget of the NHS in England will be a protected one for this Parliament in which there will be real-terms increases, albeit more modest than in the past. But we have seen in Wales in particular a fall of just over 8% in funding. That is the decision of a Labour Welsh Government. The moneys that are saved in the health service in England through cutting out bureaucracy and through greater effectiveness in delivering care will be totally reinvested—100%—in the NHS in England.

I may have an interest—a remote one—in this question. I expect my right hon. Friend would agree that every patient who chooses to have private health care rather than national health service care, for whatever reason, is one less case on the national health cost and care bases. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it may be appropriate for the Treasury to do a cost-benefit analysis so as to consider a tax encouragement for individuals, especially those over 65, to take out private health insurance?

I do not want to disappoint my hon. Friend, but I am afraid I do not agree with that. What the Government have to concentrate on is giving the maximum amount of resources within the protected budget to the provision of health care in this country, to ensure, enhance and improve the quality of care for patients in England. That is the priority, not providing tax relief in any shape or form for people who use their choice for private health care.

Professionals working in the NHS told the Health and Social Care Bill Committee that income from private patients was important to the development and improvement of NHS services. What steps will my right hon. Friend take to ensure that that income benefits NHS patients?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question, because it might clarify some of the misinformation being bandied around on the Opposition Benches. Any money generated by private patients or by the private sector within the NHS must be spent on NHS patients, so it will benefit NHS patients and the NHS, and that is to be welcomed.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that collaboration between the NHS and the independent sector can deliver real benefits for both patients and the taxpayer?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, because we need to drive up the quality of care. What we are doing with the Health and Social Care Bill is closing a loophole so that there can be no favouritism towards the private sector, so the travesty introduced under the previous Government, including the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), whereby independent treatment centres had an advantage that put the NHS at a disadvantage in providing care, and were paid more than the NHS, will stop, because it is unacceptable.

Part 3 of the Health and Social Care Bill will introduce competition policy to the NHS by law for the first time in its history. Does the Minister think that that is likely to lead to more private care in this country or less?

I am sorry, but the right hon. Gentleman, who always asks this question, is wrong. We have not introduced competition into the NHS; it was there under the previous Administration.

It is a bit rich for the former Secretary of State to bleat about that. What I want is the finest health care for patients so that they are treated more effectively and quickly and their long-term conditions are managed in a way that enhances the patient experience.