Complete Withdrawal of N.H.S. Beds from Resident Private Patients and Transfer of Board's Functions to Secretary of State

Part of Orders of the Day — Health Services Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th October 1976.

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Photo of Mr Patrick Jenkin Mr Patrick Jenkin , Redbridge Wanstead and Woodford 12:00 am, 12th October 1976

That may be acceptable to the hon. Gentleman but I am addressing my remarks to New Clause 4.

We are asking for at least Part II of the Bill to be put on ice. In a period of acute financial crisis the nation simply cannot afford this ridiculous piece of Socialist nonsense.

There are other reasons why Part II should be put into cold storage. There is no dispute that there is a crisis of morale in the National Health Service, not just among doctors but among many others who are responsible for providing the services upon which patients depend.

The Secretary of State has been frank. In an interview with the Health and Social Service Journal at the beginning of the month he said: I must make some contribution during my stay at the Department to improving the morale of staff in the health service.… the sense of commitment to patients has a much lower priority than it had. We have to go some way to recreate the spirit of commitment. But I do not want to put forward my ideas on how to do this yet. How could he put forward ideas when the Government are thrusting through this absurd Bill with its damaging effect on morale within the service.

4.45 p.m.

Another reason for putting the Bill on ice is that we are now facing a virtual standstill in the growth of resources going into the service. The service is, too, still suffering from the disastrous regime of the right hon. Member for Blackburn when she made the service a plaything of Socialist politics. I agree that reorganisation created some problems, but Labour hon. Members are quick to forget the pressure, discussions and negotiations that went on for years before the National Health Service Reorganisation Act 1973 reached the statute book. The situation is worsened now that that is to be combined with cuts in resources and the political shenanigans which the right hon. Lady played with the service.

The cuts are having severe consequences, particularly for the four Thames regions which are the hardest hit. I have two examples of what is happening and which illustrate why morale is so low. Yesterday I heard that the West Middlesex Hospital is currently closing 20 per cent. of surgical beds by removing the appropriate number of beds from each surgical ward. In the St. Mary's group of hospitals there is to be a withdrawal of all student nurses from 11 acute general medical and surgical wards. [Interruption.] I understand that hon. Members opposite do not want to hear the facts but they will have to. The withdrawal of student nurses will have a severe effect on teaching.

The examples that I have given are mirrored all over the country and are leading to despair in the service. What does the Secretary of State think will be the effect on morale if, after withdrawal, pay beds are closed down and do not become available to National Health Service patients? That is what is likely to happen as a result of the West Middlesex situation. There will not be enough money to keep open the 22 pay beds in the Ealing, Hammersmith and Hounslow AHA which are mentioned in the schedule.

Will that help morale in the service? What does the Secretary of State think will be the reaction of part-time consultants when they are told that there is no money to give them full-time consultancies? They will be without jobs or they will have to emigrate. Will that help morale? It is not surprising that the Secretary of State was coy when he told the Journal that he was not going to produce ideas for helping morale just now. These are compelling reasons for postponing phasing out. It does not make sense with the present resources of the service.

What about political interference? The Secretary of State was frank about why he replaced the right hon. Member for Blackburn. He was asked: How do you differ, politically, from Barbara Castle? He replied: Because I am less militant and do not stride into battle with so much gusto as Barbara, I may be less effective. She enjoys an argument whereas I don't like conflict. He was right. The right hon. Gentleman was brought in to restore peace and to try to bring back a little harmony into the NHS. Indeed, when he made a statement immediately after his appointment, he said: I shall never seek confrontation for the sake of a fight. I shall try to mediate and conciliate. Yet was he not desperately unwise not to see in his appointment an opportunity to drop the Bill and to try to do something to restore morale? Instead he let it go forward when he could scarcely have had time to read it.

We are now in a new ball game. The economic crisis is threatening, the NHS is having severe financial problems, and morale, on the right hon. Gentleman's own admission, is low. Surely this is the moment at which the Government might pause to consider whether they are not going down the wrong road. Can the right hon. Gentleman not even now recognise that by putting Part II of the Bill on ice he could do more for morale than by taking almost any other step?

There is a third reason—and here I come to the speech of the hon. Member for Brent, South. At no stage during the prolonged Committee proceedings were we given any convincing reason for the Bill. All we got, as we have had again today, was the same tired old Socialist complaints about queue-jumping.

The hon. Gentleman will remember that perhaps one of the most effective and constructive debates in Committee was on Clause 6, dealing with waiting lists and the proposal for the examination of common waiting lists. I am sure that all those who took part in the Committee will remember the profound analysis of the problems of waiting lists given by my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Boscawen) in a speech which I am sure will be a source of guidance on these problems for a long time.

But throughout the debates on Clause 6, no Minister was unwise enough to seek to argue that the abolition of pay beds would have any effect at all on the waiting lists. Indeed, from the letter sent by the Department whilst the right hon. Member for Blackburn was Secretary of State we know that the Department does not seek to argue that it will have any effect on the waiting lists, because the waiting lists stem from wholly different reasons.