No, Sir. It is not reasonable to expect general medical practitioners to be personally available to patients around the clock every day of the year, and deputising arrangements, including the use of deputising services, ensure that family doctors can have adequate periods off duty. The use of deputising services is controlled by regulations and local arrangements are reviewed periodically by family practitioner committees and their professional advisory committees.
Yes, although I am aware that there is public anxiety in certain areas such as Croydon, Bromley and Stockport that they are not being observed. The family practitioner committees in those areas are carrying out careful investigations. Reports will be received later. If it is necessary to review the guidelines, they will be reviewed.
Is my hon. Friend aware that, nevertheless, there are now problems in the countryside because some of the hospitals are cutting out emergency services at weekends? It is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain a doctor within a 10-mile radius of some country towns.
Family practitioner committees regularly review the provision of deputising services. I am sure that my hon. Friend's local family practitioner committee has that point well under review at the moment.
Is the Minister aware that more and more doctors are using deputising services and that some in inner cities use them far too often? Clearly, family practitioner committees are not acting sufficiently urgently or efficiently against those who are not following the guidelines. What action does he propose to take?
I am sure that the hon. Lady is not suggesting for one second that doctors do not deserve some time off during their weekly round. Secondly, I am sure she is aware that the regulations that the family practitioner committees lay down for doctors prevent doctors from subcontracting their services every night of the week and weekends. They are not permitted to do so by regulations. At the moment the Department, pending certain reviews that are being carried out, is content that the regulations are adequate.