Doctors (Deputising Services)

Oral Answers to Questions — Social Services – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th June 1983.

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Photo of Mr George Park Mr George Park , Coventry North East 12:00 am, 28th June 1983

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he has any plans to reduce the numbers of general practitioners relying on deputising services.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

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.

Photo of Mr George Park Mr George Park , Coventry North East

As over 43 per cent. of general practitioners use deputising services, and other doctors make different arrangements, is the Minister completely satisfied that the 1978 guidelines are being observed?

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

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.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Lewis Mr Kenneth Lewis , Stamford and Spalding

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.

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

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.

Photo of Gwyneth Dunwoody Gwyneth Dunwoody , Crewe and Nantwich

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?

Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon

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.