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Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for allowing me to table this Question. I also thank the noble and learned Lord for coming to the House to reply. First, can the Minister tell the House how much of the proceeds will reach English Partnerships? From the response of the Minister, it sounds as if English Partnerships, which represents the taxpayer, is at the end of a very long queue of creditors. Secondly, from the response of the Minister am I right to believe that in order to stay open until the end of the year the Millennium Commission is being asked to make available either a loan or a facility to keep the Dome project afloat until Nomura takes it over at the end of the period?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, as to how much English Partnerships will receive, for reasons of commercial confidentiality I cannot set out in full the details of the agreement reached with Dome Europe. However, I have indicated that early payments of £105 million are to be made. Of that, £53 million will go to NMEC and the remainder to English Partnerships. The amount that goes to English Partnerships will be totally unencumbered and will reflect a fair split of the money with the Dome company. The Dome company and English Partnerships each owns part of the Dome, and there has been a sensible and fair split between the two.
The noble Baroness asked whether for the Dome to stay open the Millennium Commission is to provide a loan facility. The present position is that the Dome company has the asset; namely, the expectation that it will receive its share of the proceeds. The Millennium Commission has indicated that it will agree to consider how that asset may be realised between now and when Dome Europe takes over.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that we welcome his Answer today which is a very satisfactory outcome, remembering as we do that the whole Dome project was conceived with all-party support? Is the noble and learned Lord also aware that what has been, and will be, done in Greenwich will do a great deal to assist the local economy?
Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, can my noble and learned friend inform the House who is Dome Europe, what it intends to do with the Dome once it has acquired it, and how it managed to acquire such an unfortunate name?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, Dome Europe is a wholly owned subsidiary of Nomura. I do not know how it secured its name, but it chose it. As I indicated in my initial response, it proposes to create an urban entertainment resort through a combination of uses. The latter will include hotels, a convention centre, commercial leisure, restaurants, residential units, offices, retail and community facilities.
Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the recent tattoo on Horse Guards Parade, finishing as it did with impressive scenes of young servicemen caring for children in disadvantaged parts of the world, represented everything that was finest in the traditions and heritage of this country which, by contrast, the Dome has from its inception failed to address? Will the Minister do all that he can to rectify that situation in the future use of the Dome?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I entirely agree with the observations of the noble Viscount about the tattoo. I believe that if the noble Viscount goes to Greenwich and sees the effect that the Dome has had on regeneration, employment and people who previously could not get work, he will conclude that the project is a very worthwhile legacy.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I congratulate the noble and learned Lord on having got shot of a project which I am sure has been a total anxiety to him and everyone else from the point of view of its capital costs, running costs and disposal. The noble and learned Lord must be very glad to be rid of it, because it has not been a great success, has it?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I have genuinely been proud and privileged to be involved in the project which is now the most popular pay-to-visit attraction in the whole of the United Kingdom. It is a project which the British Tourist Authority believes will bring approximately £1 billion-worth of tourism to this country this year. It is also a project which has transformed the derelict and unusable north Greenwich peninsula into an area which now has hope
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the popularity of the competition, and the number of strong commercial enterprises which entered it, indicated that they thought that what had been created was a good commercial operation. I think that they will build on the good progress we have made.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, last Thursday the Minister three times gave absolute assurances of his confidence that the company would reach its financial objectives. Only the next day the annual report spoke of significant risks and uncertainties. One was the arrival of satisfactory funding from the sale. Others were the reductions of costs and maintaining adequate revenue. Can the Minister explain why his confidence was so much greater than that of the company? Will the noble and learned Lord confirm that it will be essential for a significant tranche of that sale, in one form or another, to be available by November?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, if the noble Lord had read it, he would have seen that the annual report indicates confidence, and, quite properly, the risks. I remain confident that the Dome will complete the year up to 31st December 2000 within its lifetime budget of £758 million. If it needs to realise before December the asset it now has, namely the sale, the Millennium Commission will consider how best to realise that.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, will the Government undertake an inquiry into the history of the project? Will the results of that inquiry be published? In particular, will that inquiry cover the question which has exercised a number of us about whether the Government overruled objections from the Millennium Commission about the propriety or otherwise of its continuing to support this project in view of its financial difficulties?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, no, I shall not give such an undertaking. The issue was raised the week before last by the noble Lord, Lord Lamont, in an Unstarred Question. In the course of that debate it was established that there have been five Select Committee inquiries, in excess of 1,000 Questions, and a National Audit Office inquiry into the specific
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the Companion indicates that a PNQ taken after Question Time normally takes 10 minutes. That is the time for what one might call a fifth Question. In this instance, given the length of the detailed response to the Private Notice Question which my noble and learned friend gave with great courtesy to the House, the Chief Whip and, I believe, the Leader of the Opposition signalled to each other that 12 minutes should be taken. Those 12 minutes have now passed.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, with permission I should like to repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is on the health service and is as follows:
"As to investment, in March we took a profound decision as a government. We had sorted out the public finances. Debt service payments were down. Spending on unemployment benefits was down. It was the tough decisions we took on the economy that gave us the opportunity to make an historic commitment to the NHS--an average real terms increase in spending of 6 per cent. Over five years the NHS will grow by a third in real terms, the largest ever sustained increase in its funding.
"The plan shows, first, how that money will make up for years of under-investment. Over the next four years, it will provide 7,500 more consultants, a rise of 30 per cent; 2,000 extra GPs; 450 more GP
"For decades the NHS has failed to invest sufficiently in modern building and equipment. The plan will mean 3,000 GP premises modernised and 500 new one-stop primary care centres, 250 new scanners for cancer and other illnesses, modern IT systems in every hospital and GP surgery, 100 new hospital schemes in the next 10 years; and 7,000 more hospital beds in hospitals and intermediate care including the first rise in acute hospital beds in 30 years.
"This is only possible because we are making this historic investment in the NHS. Caring better for NHS staff will mean better care for NHS patients. That is why this plan sets out new facilities for staff, starting with 100 on-site nurseries; and money for training for all staff not just the professions but the support staff as well. Our task is not just to tackle years of under-funding but years of low morale too.
"We know money alone is not the solution. Over the past few months, myself and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State--to whose work I pay tribute today in drawing up the plan--have had scores of meetings with NHS staff and professionals, visited hospitals and GPs and spoken to providers and users of the NHS. Because the issue of funding has been alleviated, at long last people have been able to lift their heads and look at the system in which they operate.
"The NHS staff are magnificent. They are the greatest asset the service has. They are the basis of the trust British people put in the NHS. But in truth they have been, often still are, working flat out in a system that is still organised as it was in the 1940s, when today patients and staff expect and demand a wholly different type of service for the new world in which we live.
"What amazes me is that this is the first time that Government have looked long and hard at all aspects of the NHS: the absurd demarcations between staff that keep patients waiting; the splits between social services and the NHS that make life misery for many elderly people; the consultants' contract unchanged since 1948; the issue of private practice and NHS work left unresolved; GPs' contracts being based too much on quantity not quality; and a stand-off between the private sector and the NHS that is not in the interests of NHS patients. All difficult issues, all a relic from 1948. All addressed in this plan.
"Secondly, in respect of GPs, the vast majority do a superb job. They are highly respected and rightly so and we should never allow publicity given to the few exceptions to undermine the excellence of the GPs' reputation. But the GPs' contract again is outdated and inflexible. GPs can do more, even some work presently undertaken by consultants, and should have far more freedom in how they use the money they have. Over time, without compulsion but with clear incentives, we aim to move GPS on to a new system of contractual arrangements--the Personal Medical Service contract--which will reward doctors on the basis of quality of care as well as numbers of patients and will give them within it far greater flexibility to innovate and change. There will be more salaried doctors. This will be the most significant change to the way GPs operate since 1948 and can literally transform primary care in this country.
"Consultants do an extraordinary job for the NHS. Their expertise and immense skill are key to the future of the NHS. That is why we are increasing consultant numbers by a third and giving leading clinicians a greater role in the setting of national standards. But the consultant contract has remained largely unchanged since 1948. And though most consultants work extremely hard for the NHS beyond their contractual commitments, there is no proper management of their time. So for the first time we will make sure that all consultants have proper job plans setting out their key objectives, tasks and responsibilities. Consultants will also have their performance regularly reviewed.
"But most of all, we want to reward those who make most commitment to the NHS. First, to encourage high standards of performance and the use of the new national service frameworks. In this case, the consultants, along with others, will have access to the new £500 million performance fund which will give extra money to those meeting the highest standards of service.
"Secondly, we will merge the existing distinction awards and discretionary points schemes and increase the funding of them. By 2004, we will increase the number of consultants in receipt of a superannuable bonus from under one half of all consultants at present to around two-thirds and double the proportion of consultants who receive annual bonuses of £5,000 or more.
"Thirdly, we offer the consultants a deal. From now on, once someone is newly qualified, then for the first few years of their service they will be contracted to work exclusively for the NHS. Again, these will be the most substantial changes to consultants' contracts since 1948.
"I would like to thank Sir Stewart Sutherland, who chaired the Royal Commission for Long Term Care, and the other members who sat on it. A full response to the commission's report is published alongside the Health Plan.
"Today we are correcting a major injustice in the system. The NHS provides nursing care free of charge for people living in their own home or in hospital. But until now nursing provided in a nursing home has been charged for. This will now change. From October 2001, subject to parliamentary approval, nursing care in nursing homes will be treated as nursing care elsewhere in the NHS; free at the point of use.
"In addition, we are investing in a major expansion of intermediate care, prevention and rehabilitation services for the elderly. By 2004 spending on new services and facilities will rise to £900 million a year. Also, as the commission proposed, we will expand respite care for services benefiting 75,000 carers and those they care for.
"Central to this are measures to reduce health inequalities. The truth is that there are gaps between the health of the poorest and the better off in our society which are completely unacceptable in a modern Britain. And it is children who pay the biggest price. That is why programmes like Sure Start, like the enhanced maternity grants, increased child benefit and the New Deal for Communities are so vital and why we should fight so hard to protect them against those who would abolish them.
"Next, we will reform the treatment of the most serious illnesses such as cancer and heart disease. Up until now, there have been no national standards and patchy treatment. Some get drugs, others do not. Some are seen quickly, others are not. For each of the main conditions, there will be a national framework of standards which will lay down minimum standards of access and care to which patients should be entitled. For cancer, for example, this means maximum waiting times covering not just referral to diagnosis but also diagnosis to treatment; a big expansion in cancer screening and cancer
"These national service frameworks will reflect a fundamental change in the relationship between central government and the local NHS. The centre will do what it must do: set standards; monitor performance; support modernisation; put in place a proper system of inspection; and, where necessary, correct failure. The new Commission for Health Improvement will inspect and report on hospitals, primary care groups and primary care trusts. This information, like Ofsted on schools, will be available to the public. If necessary, the worst performing trusts will have new management put in. The 3,000 non-executive board members of trusts and health authorities will not in future be appointed by the Secretary of State but by an independent appointments commission. There will be a new independent panel to advise the Secretary of State on proposed reorganisations of local hospitals and health services.
"There will be maximum devolution of power to local health professionals. Primary care groups will over time move to being primary care trusts offering minor surgery, physiotherapy and diagnostic tests and minor operations in the local primary care centre. And for all PCTs, health authorities and hospital trusts there will be a new system--what is called "earned autonomy"--which will radically reduce the amount of central intervention where performance is high. Patients put their trust in front-line doctors. So do we.
"This will include a new framework, a concordat, with the private sector. There should be and will be no barrier to partnership with the private sector where appropriate, as the PFI hospital building programme shows. Where the facilities of the private sector can improve care or help fill gaps in capacity, we should use it. But let me make one thing clear. We will never permit people to be forced out of the NHS for non-urgent care. That would destroy the NHS. Where the private sector is used, it will be fully within the NHS service-free at the point of use to the patient.
"We also examined in detail alternative methods of funding the NHS. We concluded that the proposals of some to expand healthcare through tax incentives for private health insurance were massively inefficient and took vital resources out of the NHS and that moving entirely to a continental European type of social insurance system, while less inequitable than many other suggested alternatives, would cost an extra £1,000 to £1,500 per employee
"At the heart of these reforms is the idea of re-designing the system round the patient. Too often, whatever the quality of actual care, the patient is catered for in dirty wards, rundown premises with standards of food and basic amenities far below what would be tolerable in other services. Part of the reforms outlined go to remedy this situation. Clean wards and better hospital food will become central to trusts' work, with new resources to back it up. This will get under way now. By 2002, 95 per cent of mixed sex wards will have gone. NHS Direct will be available in all parts of the country. In time, we aim to have the ability to link all parts of the system through technology so one call will put the patient immediately to the right place.
"By 2005, booked appointments will take the place of old waiting lists. As a first big step towards this, all hospitals will by April 2001 be using booking for two of their major conditions. By 2003-04, two-thirds of all appointments will be pre-booked.
"By 2004, there will be an end to long waits in accident and emergency and people will get an appointment with a GP within a maximum of 48 hours. Plus, if an operation is cancelled on the day it is due to take place, other than for medical reasons, patients will get another one within 28 days or have their treatment funded somewhere else.
"Patients will also have more say and more choice with a patient advocate and forum in every hospital to give patients immediate help with sorting out their complaints and a voice in how the hospital is run.
"Over time, these changes, plus the money and staff, will allow waiting to come down substantially. By 2005, the maximum waiting time for an outpatient appointment will be three months and for an in-patient six months, rather than the present 18 months with urgent cases being seen the most rapidly. Average waiting times will, as a result, also come down from seven weeks to five weeks for outpatients and from three months to seven weeks for operations. That means reduced waiting times for all conditions--not only some. And our eventual objective, provided that we recruit the staff and that the NHS makes the reforms, is to reduce the maximum waiting time for any stage of treatment to three months by end of 2008.
"Many other proposals for change are set out in the plan. It will mean, over time, a very radical change in the NHS. But I emphasise to the country that it will take time. Some changes will be fast; others are crucially dependent on new investment in staff and facilities. Staff are crucial to this process. Uniquely, the principles that underpin the plan command the wide support of professions and staff across the NHS, as will be seen from the signatures to these principles at the start of the plan.
"But there is another cause for optimism. At every level of the NHS there are already examples where change and reform have made a difference. We know that the plan is achievable because somewhere in the NHS it is being achieved. The challenge has been to remove the outdated practices and perverse incentives that have prevented the best from becoming the norm. And I make this clear to NHS staff: we shall continue with the same system of co-operative working and partnership that has characterised the past four months. This is the beginning and not the end of that process.
"The challenge is to make the NHS once again the healthcare system that the world most envies. Now, with the money being invested, the reforms can follow. Therefore, we can proclaim loud and clear that the idea of decent healthcare, based not on one's wealth or position but on one's need and suffering, is not an old-fashioned principle that has had its day but is, rather, a timeless principle that this generation has found the courage to reinvigorate for the modern world. I commend the plan to the House".
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement made earlier today by the Prime Minister. As the House knows well, over the course of the past few weeks, the noble Baroness and I have dealt with a number of such Statements emanating from the Prime Minister. I have to say that this is the first one of any real substance. Compared to the banalities of the annual report or even the one about the G8 Summit earlier this week, this Statement is very much worth dealing with.
Of course, that is why the Prime Minister elbowed aside the Secretary of State and decided to make the Statement himself. Therefore, I express my sympathy to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. The House has come to appreciate his deep knowledge of healthcare and I am sorry that he did not have the opportunity to make the Statement today.
In essence--and I know that the noble Baroness will forgive me for saying this--much of the Statement atones for and, indeed, repudiates the policies pursued in the first years of this Government, for which the noble Baroness herself bears some responsibility. In that sense, it is particularly appropriate that she should be making the Statement this afternoon in this House. This must also be one of those eye-catching areas, referred to in the infamous leaked memo, with which the Prime Minister wanted to be associated as closely as possible.
The Statement deals with our most important national service. The last Conservative government gave the NHS record levels of support and the next Conservative government will do the same. We have made clear that we shall match whatever spending the Government commit to the support of healthcare in Britain. Therefore, the debate is not about how much we shall spend but about how it will be spent. We are
Is it not extraordinary that this Statement was not the Statement made three years ago? During the election the Prime Minister said that there were 24 hours to save the NHS. Since then we have seen three wasted years in which many of the best initiatives of the last government have been torn up for narrow political reasons and precious little else has been done. One has only to look at the present day realities. Waiting lists to see a consultant are up by 154,000; 80 per cent of health authorities report that more patients are waiting over a year for their operations; the number of heart bypass operations has fallen for the first time in 25 years; and, as the Prime Minister's Statement acknowledged, morale among staff in the service is exceptionally low.
We welcome, for example, the help given to older people in nursing homes--a measure that we had been calling for. We congratulate Professor Sutherland and the Royal Commission, who are the real authors of this proposal. However, will the noble Baroness explain where the boundaries are drawn between personal care, for which the NHS will not pay, and nursing care, for which it now will? For example, how much care for an Alzheimer's disease patient is classed as personal care and how much as nursing care? Will bathing or feeding a dementia patient be personal and paid for, as the Royal Commission suggested, or will it be disallowed as nursing care? Has a decision been taken by Her Majesty's Government on where the line will be drawn?
We welcome other aspects of this Statement. We welcome the additional responsibilities given to nurses. Professionals, such as pharmacists, nurses and members of the professions supplementary to medicine, have long been under-used in the NHS. We welcome the renewed commitments to care for serious conditions, such as cancer and heart disease. We welcome the additional resources for healthcare. And we hope that the money is used wisely and that better patient care will be the result.
However, the Prime Minister seemed unclear about his attitude to the private sector. On the one hand, he extends a ban on trained consultants working in the private sector; on the other, he talks of co-operation in treating patients. Is it not about time that the Government got over their schizophrenia with regard to private health and acknowledged and embraced it as part of our national resource, to be used wherever it is of service to NHS patients, always free, of course, at
Now that there is no argument about lack of resources, will the Government restore GPs' freedom, abolished last year, to send patients to the hospital of their choice? And will the noble Baroness tell the House whether the waiting list initiative remains a core of the Government's policy on health? And when the Prime Minister declares an end to what he calls the "postcode lottery for drug prescribing", can the noble Baroness confirm that that will apply to the prescription of drugs for patients of chronic conditions, such as, specifically, MS?
We shall wait to see how the plan works. If it is to work, it will do so only because of the skill and dedication of the hundreds of thousands of people who work in the NHS. We on this side of the House share in paying our tribute to them. However, if I have one nagging worry about this Statement and about this policy, it is that the Government trust them too little in some respects and trust centralisation too much.
The Government abandoned local initiatives when they scrapped GP fundholding and the autonomy of NHS trusts. Yet many of the best initiatives in the NHS have come from local innovation. I hope that the noble Baroness can confirm that it is not the Government's aspiration to move to an entirely salaried GP service. I hope, too, that she can confirm that, in centralising GP and consultant contracts, they will not lose their personal concern for the individual patient and freedom of action that has always characterised the best in healthcare.
This afternoon, the Prime Minister, and the noble Baroness in this House, made an important statement of intent. It requires examination and further debate. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to indicate her approval--if not definitely conclude that it will happen--for a debate to take place in this House when we return in the autumn so that the Statement can be properly judged. It is very important that this House, particularly with the great expertise that exists within it, should be allowed to take a view.
Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, on behalf of these Benches, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement made elsewhere by the Prime Minister. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in only one major respect: it is a pity that this Statement was not made two or three years ago. History will say that the great error was that the Chancellor committed himself to the spending plans that he inherited. Over the past two or three years, the National Health Service has deteriorated as a result of inadequate spending.
However, the tone of my remarks, which I hope will be echoed elsewhere, is that the Statement and the plan deserve a generous welcome. It is the best statement of policy that I have seen from this Government. I hope that it will receive wide support. We are all in the
I note that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, effectively gave an undertaking on the quantum--in other words, he said that the Conservatives would not spend less--but he went on to imply that there might be major changes in the direction of the spending. Of course, one cannot deny the right of any opposition party to think of alternative ways of spending, but it would be a great mistake on this occasion to look for reasons to disagree with the proposals, rather than reasons to go along with them. Agreement will give the National Health Service the stability that it requires.
Of course, we can argue about the past. For a quarter of a century, from 1948, we believed that our national health service was the best in the world. We were living on sentiment, because no government did enough to give it a proper future. In the end, it was limping and falling behind. Then there was another quarter of a century of positive neglect. I do not want to argue about who was responsible. Political parties did not give the necessary leadership in saying that it is impossible to maintain the quality of the National Health Service that the nation requires unless the costs are met. Those costs ultimately fall on the taxpayer and on no one else. It would have been far better if we had been honest about that throughout that long period.
I say that because successive governments have fiddled with management and structure to avoid the central issue. However justified some of the changes may have been, as are further changes now, there is no escaping the fact that the National Health Service cannot be put on a proper basis and meet its agreed objective without the resources being made available to it. I ask for consistency over a considerable period of time in the availability of resources, and some consistency in objectives and the means of delivering them.
Let us recognise that mistakes will be made. Some priorities may change. That is the nature of medicine. There will be advances and events in medicine and technology that we shall need to take account of. However, within that framework, there will still be a great deal of room for giving the NHS support on all sides. I hope that that will be done.
No one should seek to restore the past and move back to 1948, more than half a century ago. I take it from what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has said that the principles set out in the Statement are endorsed on all sides. Those objectives--that need, not wealth should determine the availability of healthcare and that that care should be the very best--should be common to us all. They are repeated at the end of the Statement, with reference to the poorest and the better-off. It is shaming that the poorest in this country
It might be said that we find it easy to support the plan because, for the most part, it is consistent with Liberal Democrat policies. However, even if it were not, we should try very hard to examine each issue on its merits and see whether we can support the plan.
I have two points to make. The first is on long-term care--an issue that is familiar to the Leader of the House and on which I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. We believe that the Royal Commission's majority report was right: we should not separate nursing from personal and social care. More to the point, we do not believe that the policy will work. That is one of the proposals in the plan that, in the end, will come unstitched.
The second point that needs to be looked at carefully is the role and effectiveness of public/private partnerships. We should remain sceptical about their effectiveness and about whether they are the best and cheapest way of getting the money required for the investment on which I hope that we are agreed.
Apart from sharing the view of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that an early debate would be welcome, despite our heavy programme, my only question for the noble Baroness is how the Government intend to monitor and audit the process that they have begun today. We all want it to succeed. How can we ensure that it does and how will progress be reported to Parliament?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their welcome for the Statement. In a sense, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, made his own point by saying that it was a Statement of substance. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, went further, saying that it was the best policy programme put forward by the Government since the election. I endorse the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about the knowledge and understanding of my noble friend, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, but with all due respect to my noble friend, the serious and substantive nature of the policy statement makes it worthy of the Prime Minister's involvement.
Both noble Lords have to some extent ignored the opening paragraphs of the Statement, which deal with the economic situation and the reasons why the Government are coming forward with the Statement now. As we have said many times, including at the time of the recent Comprehensive Spending Review proposals, the Government have now enabled this level of public investment in the health service, which was agreed at the time of the Budget, by achieving a stable economic platform.
The questions of detail about GP contracts and the way in which consultants and others are employed are relevant, but the point about the relationship with the private sector is clearly set out in the Statement and in the detail of the report. The Government have said that where there is extra capacity in the private sector that can enable health service patients to be treated quickly and appropriately, particularly at times when the health service is under pressure, such as in the winter months, that extra capacity should be used.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, used the word "schizophrenia". There is nothing split-minded about the question of the private healthcare industry and the concerns that the Government have about consultants. I think that most people will understand that that is a pragmatic approach to using the resources of the private healthcare system within the overall healthcare economy. On the other hand, if one considers the enormous expenses invested by the taxpayers to train doctors in the health service and take them on beyond undergraduate education to the point at which they achieve consultant appointments, it seems to me perfectly legitimate to say that they should then invest their time for a period of years exclusively in the health service. If they then have opportunities to take on private practice, that is something which they can in turn enjoy. But the concept of a return on the taxpayers' investment in this extremely long and complicated training, in the form of a reinvestment of their very high skills into the health service, is generally acceptable to both members of the public and to the medical profession itself.
The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, asked about issues related to prescribing and individual types of disease and medical conditions to which these would apply. Of course, under the national service frameworks and the development of the National Institute of Clinical Excellence and its work on recommending ways in which treatment should be applied in every part of the country, all conditions will over time be able to achieve this uniform part of treatment and care. One of the criticisms most vociferously expressed by patients all over the country is that their expectations of what they will receive in one particular postcode will not be the same as in another. The development of these national service frameworks will, of course, lead to much greater stability and uniformity of treatment and care in that way.
As I said in the Statement, it will be monitored by the Commission for Health Improvement, and the Audit Commission will work with the Commission for Health Improvement to achieve that monitoring. We hope that in time this will result in a progression to a situation in which the very best of NHS practice, which certainly occurs in many parts of the country, can be extended throughout the whole of the system. One sadness about the NHS at the moment is that there are often pockets of extraordinarily good practice that are not spread around throughout the system. Monitoring by an organisation such as the Commission for Health Improvement, working on the basis of the system which I previously described, with national service frameworks in place to enable particular standards of care and treatment to be expected and provided by all hospitals and general practitioners, should enable proper benchmarking and proper dissemination of good standards throughout the system.
A number of questions were asked about the details of the organisation, including the questions relating to prescribing to which I have referred. Overall, the answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about prescribing is "yes".
With regard to the question about the relationship between personal care and nursing services, the issue of agreeing how one defines a service that is delivered under the nursing care arrangement and one which, as the noble Lord rightly said, could possibly be described as personal care, has always been a grey area. What has now been rather sensibly decided is that, instead of trying to demarcate between different services, it should be understood that all care provided by a registered nurse should be eligible for the free treatment arrangements. That defines it more by way of the person who is giving the care rather than by some artificially demarcated system of services, and I know that the Government and the health service together feel that that is a more useful way in which to approach it.
I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, spoke as he did about the overall and universal way in which we hope that this will be taken forward to improve healthcare and to improve the situation in which we have gross inequalities in standards of health in various parts of our community. In my view, one of the most hopeful and inspiring parts of the report is that which contains the signatures right at the beginning of this document. They cover everybody who is involved in the provision of healthcare and the leaders of health services in this country, all of whom have put their signatures to this document, which very clearly sets out
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