National Health Service

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st November 1975.

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Photo of Mr Anthony Grant Mr Anthony Grant , Harrow Central 12:00 am, 21st November 1975

I know that the hon. Gentleman lives fairly near, and I hope that he was well treated at the hospital. I am glad to see him making a full recovery to health. But I doubt whether he has had the meetings that my colleagues and I have had and that paints a very different picture. It would be very uncharacteristic, if I may say so, for consultants and doctors to worry their patients, no matter how eminent they were, while they were undergoing treatment for their own problems. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that over the last two years in that hospital no fewer than six consultants and six doctors in training grades have emigrated and have no intention of returning.

It is not just in this hospital alone that that is happening. According to the information given by the Secretary of State herself, in the period ending September there were 106 consultants and senior registrars in England who resigned from the National Health Service with the intention of emigrating. She confirmed that this was causing anxiety. Indeed, the Minister of State said on 10th June that the signs were that medical emigration was increasing. All through the Service there is anxiety on this point. The director of radiology at St. Mary's Hospital—where my wife was herself a nurse many years ago—said that in the past 18 months 23 senior registrars and eight registrars trained in diagnostic radiology had left the National Health Service for posts overseas. This trend will continue, I very much fear, as long as the Government in general and the Secretary of State in particular pursue the mad, doctrinaire policy that they have put before us in the Gracious Speech.

It may help the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) to know that a letter was sent from the Northwick Park Hospital to the Secretary of State in October pointing out that most consultants at the hospital had whole-time contracts but nevertheless unreservedly supported the memorandum submitted by organisations representing medical and dental practitioners and requesting the Government to include in the remit of the Royal Commission the subject of pay beds. This document—I have it here—was signed by no fewer than 72 consultants, surgeons and senior medical officers—men of very great talent and very great dedication to the profession. It sums up the attitude within that great hospital, and I am only glad that the medical staff had the decency not to bother or burden the hon. Member for Ealing, North while he was recuperating.

This is not a matter affecting or concerning, as some may say, just the highly paid consultants and Harley Street specialists. It is not something affecting only those who choose to spend their money on private beds and private treatment. It affects every person in the country, no matter how humble, in need of medical treatment.

If the Government pursue this policy, I believe that the exodus of these distinguished people will be likely to increase into a stampede, with the result that the most humble citizens in the land, the most humble of our constituents, in need of medical care and attention, will find that they are getting a second-rate service, with the greatest expertise gone. This will be to their detriment and to the detriment of the nation. I wholly regret it, and I ask the Secretary of State and the Minister, who is himself in the profession, to think again.

On the subject of junior doctors, a different problem, I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) said in his excellent opening speech. There must be something wrong with the system—although we want to maintain the counter-inflationary policy, and although we do not support strike action or the work of militants—when, as I was told in my constituency, there are doctors receiving less remuneration than the porters serving in the hospital. That cannot be right, and it cannot be good for the health of the profession.

We are dealing with a major crisis of confidence, and I suggest that there are only three possible ways out of it. First, I ask the Government to think again and to abandon the mad, doctrinaire policy on which they are embarking. They need not worry about breaking pledges. We know that in their election manifesto they pledged themselves to phase out pay beds. They also pledged themselves to reduce prescription charges, whereas they intend to increase them. That is one pledge that has been broken. Why cannot they break another if to do so is in the interests of the profession?

If the Government will not do that, I support the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield that the crisis with the junior doctors has become such that the Prime Minister himself should take charge of the negotiations. What is more, he should take charge of the whole Department of Health and Social Security. There is precedent for such a course of action.

The Department clearly is in a mess. It may be because it is too big. It may be because the Secretary of State spends too much time fiddling about with pensions and is unable to apply her mind to it. But it is in disarray, and confidence will not return so long as the right hon. Lady appears to be in sole charge.

We quite understand the close friendship that has existed for many years between the Prime Minister and the right hon. Lady. But the situation has become such that she has too long a track record of failure, starting with the trade unions. She gives the impression of being too bigoted and too impaled on the doctrinaire hook ever to recover the confidence necessary to give this vital subject proper attention. I hope that the Prime Minister will take it over.

If the Prime Minister will not do that I see only one way out. It is, to use words to the Secretary of State, words which have been used in this place before on many famous occasions: In the name of God, go.