§ 7. Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes)
What plans he has to introduce private health insurance for non-emergency health care; and if he will make a statement. 
§ The Secretary of State for Health (Dr. John Reid)
I have no plans to introduce private health insurance for non-emergency health care as it would be inefficient and unfair, and would prolong pain for many people who could not afford it. The Government stand by the founding principle of the national health service of providing equal access to health care, free at the point of need.
§ Shona McIsaac
I am glad that my right hon. Friend has put it on the record that the Government have no plans to introduce such a grossly unfair system into our NHS, or to introduce any barmy ideas such as the patient passport, which would destroy the NHS. Apart from being philosophically flawed, are not such plans financially flawed, because they would put an extra burden on the taxpayer to the tune of millions of pounds?
§ Dr. Reid
Indeed, my hon. Friend is right. Those plans would divert up to £2 billion from the NHS to subsidise those who, in many cases, are already paying for private health care. The difference between what we are doing by using the spare capacity of the private sector to supplement the big increases in capacity in the NHS, and what the Opposition would do, is that we are buying in bulk at a price that is near, at or below the NHS tariff and we are providing the service free to everyone. The Opposition would create a position—[Interruption.] Let us ask the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox). Why should old-age pensioners have to pay £5,300 for a hip operation, which is what they would have to pay if the patient passport were introduced? Perhaps he could tell us why someone should have to pay £6,700—
§ Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)
Does the Secretary of State now regret scrapping, in 1997, the tax rebate on private insurance—taken out voluntarily in many cases—for those over 65, and thus placing a huge burden on the NHS and adding to the increase in waiting lists when the Government came to power?
§ Dr. Reid
No, I do not. I have cited previously the US example, where 40 per cent. of all personal bankruptcies are related to the inability to pay medical costs. That reinforces my point. I repeat: this Government will not charge up to £1,700 for a cataract operation, or £9,000 for a heart bypass. People in this country should have their health care provided free at the point of need. This Government will provide that.