Orders of the Day — National Health Service

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th December 1963.

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Photo of Mr Kenneth Robinson Mr Kenneth Robinson , St Pancras North 12:00 am, 19th December 1963

No, it was not carrying out the recommendations of a Royal Commission. It was carrying out the recommendations of a Departmental Committee under the chairmanship of Sir Henry Willink, but Sir Henry Willink and Lord Cohen of Birkenhead have claimed that the Committee gave the wrong answer because it was given the wrong statistical information by the Government. The hon. Gentleman can sort out the blame as best suits him. I like to place it on the shoulders of the Government.

In this connection, I was very interested to read an article in last Sunday's Sunday Times in which we were told that the new Minister was face to face with a crisis of medical staffing. The right hon. Gentleman is quoted as saying: This is one of the most urgent decisions which has to be taken. We have got to make jolly sure that we have sufficient doctors to staff the new hospitals". I think that we can endorse that. But it is no new crisis. For years, it has been obvious that we needed more doctors, and, for the last three years, at least, we have pressed time and again for action to deal with a situation which was already serious and was fast deteriorating.

The Sunday Times report goes on to say about the Minister: He is also ready to admit the profession relies far too heavily on young trainee doctors from overseas, mainly India and Pakistan, to man junior hospital posts. They fill 40 per cent, of such posts on the average and in provincial non-teaching hospitals the average is 52 per cent. I understand that in the Sheffield region it is about 60 per cent. Here again his predecessor was warned, and I do not recall that we ever got any admission from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West that he found the situation at all worrying. Indeed, there has been an atmosphere of frightening complacency about this question of medical staffing from the very beginning.

I should like to ask why was nothing done long before this, and why have no new medical schools been planned yet. This is another issue that we have tried to raise, only to see it bounce from the Ministry of Health to the Treasury, to the University Grants Committee and even to the Robbins Committee. It is very difficult to see where responsibility can possibly be placed for the opening of a new medical school. There is a very real urgency about this because it will be more than ten years from the taking of a decision to expand medical education and establish new medical schools before the benefits accrue to the National Health Service in the shape of additional newly-trained doctors.

There is no shortage of candidates, as hon. Members who read the correspondence columns in The Times today will see. There is a letter which states that two London medical schools have between 2,000 and 2,500 applications each for place; when there are, in fact, approximately 100 places available in each of the two hospitals. In other words, for each vacancy in the medical school there are roughly 20 applicants.