§ 4. Dr. Goodson-Wickes
To ask the Secretary of State for Health what progress is being made in publishing the budgets of national health service trusts.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Stephen Dorrell)
There are no plans to publish NHS trust budgets.
§ Dr. Goodson-Wickes
I fully accept my hon. Friend's comments. He may be interested to learn that, owing to the illegibility of my profession's handwriting, what should have appeared as "publicising benefits" has appeared on the Order Paper as "publishing budgets". Despite that, will he confirm that he will encourage national health service trusts to apply some of their budgets to promoting the benefits of NHS trusts to our constituents, notwithstanding the pessimism of my trade union, the British Medical Association?
§ Mr. Dorrell
My hon. Friend draws attention to one of the benefits of computerising prescriptions—they will in future be more legible. He is also right to stress the importance to patients of the improvements that come from trusts. The Kingston Hospital Trust, which serves my hon. Friend's constituency, was recently approved by my right hon. Friend. It promises to set specific waiting times for patients, to open evening and weekend clinics where there is substantial demand and to set down and follow discharge procedures so that GPs are fully involved in patient discharges. Those are the sort of improvements in the quality of service that can come from an imaginatively run trust.
§ Mr. Hinchliffe
Although the Minister has made it clear today that he will not publish NHS trust budgets, will he make public the full costs of wining and dining those concerned with the opting-out process? Can he justify the expenditure of £10,000 last Tuesday night on a Banqueting house booze-up for those concerned with opting out at a time when a health authority such as Wakefield has had to close 100 beds because of a lack of Government funding?
§ Mr. Dorrell
The hon. Gentleman asks a question and then establishes that it would be otiose to answer it because he already knows the answer. What is important is to establish the benefits that come from improving the management of NHS hospitals through their establishment as trusts. The accountability that matters is accountability to patients through the contracting system and the improvement in quality of service that it will provide.
§ Mr. Andrew Mitchell
Will my hon. Friend underline the point that, whether it is benefits or budgets, the role of the Audit Commission has been significantly enhanced by the National Health Service and Community Care Act? Will he ensure that the Department gives every possible support to the work of the Audit Commission, which does its best to ensure the best value for money for patients from the much-enhanced sums that we are now spending on the health service?
§ Mr. Dorrell
My hon. Friend is right. The Audit Commission has an important part to play in drawing attention to the opportunities, through more effective 140 management, to obtain better value for money for the taxpayer and a better quality of health for the patient. That should be the objective of us all.
§ Rev. Martin Smyth
Is the Minister aware that there is some anxiety among social workers that there may not be adequate provision in national health service trust hospitals for social workers, bearing in mind the fact that we are trying to move people into the community and that social workers are employed by local authorities? Is he satisfied that the budgets provide adequately for such social services?
§ Mr. Dorrell
I am satisfied that the contracting system provides the mechanism whereby district health authorities will be able to provide the seamless robe that is essential to proper health and social care, to ensure that an individual benefits first from health care, then from community care and then from social care support when appropriate. The contracting system provides the mechanism for ensuring that all that is in place.