Is my hon. Friend aware that on the evening of Friday, 21st July, there was not even a nurse or a receptionist available at the Westminster Hospital to decide which of the casualties waiting in the queue were in need of urgent attention, and that no doctor was available at either Westminster Hospital or St. Thomas's Hospital until after a two to three-hour wait? Some of the casualties needed urgent attention. Is not this evidence of a badly organised hospital service which is in need of investigation?
Some of the 34 hospitals I have mentioned have on occasion had to restrict their night service because of shortage of beds or of staff. The case which my hon. Friend has brought to the notice of the House is serious and I shall investigate it.
Is not part of the answer drastically to overhaul the conditions of employment of nurses and the younger doctors manning our hospitals? I know that the Under-Secretary is very much concerned about this matter. Does not he consider that there ought to be a speeding-up of this examination to improve recruitment and, therefore, to alleviate the situation we are discussing?
One of the difficulties is the serious problem of career prospects for young doctors in accident and emergency departments. We have made progress on this matter by securing the appointment of 32 consultant posts in this specialty.
My hon. Friend is obviously aware of the great concern all over the country, particularly in towns served by only one hospital, at the serious nature of the deficiencies of the emergency casualty services in many hospitals. Therefore, if there is no easy way of solving this problem quickly, will he set up a committee to sift the problem?
There are serious difficulties. The progress I have mentioned, the appointment of consultants, is a step in the right direction. My hon. Friend will appreciate that in many cases local general practitioners can play an important part in helping to meet local emergencies.
Is the Minister aware that there has been widespread discontent on the part of junior hospital doctors for some years? Is he prepared at least to order a departmental inquiry to see whether something can be done particularly about their conditions of employment in relation to those of senior members of the medical profession?
That supplementary question goes very much wider than the ambit of accident and emergency departments. But I am aware of the very serious problems of career prospects in this sector, which we are looking into.