NHS: The Future (Hansard, 3 December 1990)
HL Deb 03 December 1990 vol 524 cc5-7

2.49 p.m.

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they next intend to consult with the BMA, CoHSE, the royal colleges and other medical organisations on the future of the NHS.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, ministerial colleagues and officials in the Department of Health are in regular contact with a large number of organisations directly involved with NHS activities on a wide range of health service issues. We have no plans to change the current arrangements. We shall continue to consult and listen to points raised.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply. The trouble with it is that now and then there are consultations but nothing comes of them. Is he aware that the whole country realises that the hours worked by junior doctors are a national disgrace? Many nurses are gravely worried that patients for whom they have cared are being moved out of hospitals far too early. Back-up staff are also disgruntled. It is no good having discussions with the organisations unless the points that they raise are taken seriously by those who represent the Government so that action can be taken.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving me notice of his concern over doctors' hours. I am grateful. We share the concern and agree about the urgency. The Government are committed to finding workable solutions to the problems of excessive hours and the long periods of duty still worked by doctors in the NHS. The need to safeguard patient care and the essential training opportunities that junior doctors require make the position complex. The problem can be solved only if all interested parties play their part. A working group of representatives of consultants and juniors, the joint consultants committee, health departments and NHS management are working hard to find a solution.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, in addition to the organisations referred to by my noble friend in his Question, will the Minister include the TUC, Nalgo and NUPE? Can he also say what happened as a result of the recent visit to the department by the TUC and NUPE?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that supplementary question. I refer him—he may have seen it—to the letter of my right honourable friend the new Secretary of State to the Guardian in which he emphasised that there was an open-door policy. We shall continue to listen.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, does my noble friend recall that the question of junior doctors' hours is not of sudden emergence? It was continuing, and I was taking it up, when I was a Member for Marylebone, which is more than 20 years ago. The position does not seem to have improved since.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for his comment. Doctors themselves may need to reorganise their leisure. However, I agree that the problem has been continuing for a long time.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, the open-door policy is very much to be welcomed. Does the Minister agree that that is in sharp contrast to the attitude of the previous Secretary of State? Does he agree also that failure to consult with those who work in the hospital service and the unpopular policies that have been pursued have been the main causes of many of the problems?

Does the Minister consider that the Secretary of State should now urgently consult with those who work in the National Health Service about the appalling damage arising as a result of bed closures and lengthening waiting lists? Is not the situation so serious that he ought to consult with the unions, the doctors, the Royal College of Nursing and others to try to ensure that irreparable damage is not now done to the National Health Service?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I have nothing to add about the contrast in style between one Secretary of State and the next. The question of bed closure has been well rehearsed at this Dispatch Box by my noble friend. We stand by our record. Coming on top of the record levels of spending this year, the £3.2 billion allocated for 1991–92 is again the biggest ever increase. According to reports in yesterday's Sunday papers, I notice that the party opposite will produce a 50-page policy document on Thursday. It has been trailed that it will inject £4.5 billion into the NHS. That sounds very good. However, it is over a period of five years, and therefore not as good as it sounds.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that the statistics he gives do not help anyone on a waiting list who is deferred and who has to wait longer because of the cutback in the number of beds? Such patients are not interested in statistics; they are interested in having their operations and getting better.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, waiting lists are rather wide of the Question. However, I agree that we should not trade statistics at the Dispatch Box.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, the Minister referred to a statement to be made on Thursday. I make no revelations about that. However, is he aware of the recent statement by the Chartered Institute of Finance and Accounting that the new money made available to the National Health Service will not even cover the higher rates of inflation, let alone provide the improved services which the NHS desperately needs?

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, I am advised that inflation will of course make some inroads into the money, but it is still a record injection for the health service.

Lord Denham

My Lords, we have spent 18 minutes on three Questions. Your Lordships have come to the conclusion that 20 minutes should be taken on Question Time. We have one more Question. When the noble Lord opposite has asked his question and my noble friend has answered it, perhaps we should move on.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, despite the extra millions of pounds that the Government have put into the service, the standard today is as bad as it has ever been at any time? General consultation with all the organisations involved is essential; otherwise the service will slowly rot away.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

My Lords, nothing could be further from the truth. Away from the hothouse of parliamentary debate, all responsible parties accept that reforms are required in the National Health Service. With good will on all sides I believe that we are achieving them.