NHS Workforce and Service Development

Part of Opposition Day — [18th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 12:44 pm on 11th October 2006.

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Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Secretary of State for Health 12:44 pm, 11th October 2006


I want to mention one more important issue. The problem is not just deficits. In April 2004, Members may recall that we warned the Government about the impact of the European working time directive. I shall not rehearse all the arguments, but it was clear that if the Government did not secure an amendment to the directive there would be serious consequences for services. The Government claimed that would not be the case. Mr. Hutton, now the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said that they would maintain access to services despite the working time directive. But what has happened?

I shall quote from a document about changing maternity and paediatric services produced by the Manchester SHA. Manchester itself—not the whole north-west—is a good example, as it is not generally driven by deficits and ended last year with a health economy in surplus. The document states:

"Staffing pressures on the 13 units providing in-patient care are getting worse. Already children's wards and maternity units have to close on occasions because there are not enough staff to cover them safely. We will not be able to staff all these units by 2009 when the European Working Time Directive becomes law and doctors are not allowed to work the hours they currently work. This is already resulting in units being closed frequently. In 2002 there were over 200 closures to the admission of children and young people across 13 hospitals, due to either a shortage of doctors or a shortage of specialist nurses."

If the Government had done what they said would do, they would have secured an amendment to the directive. Their replies to me make it clear that they tried to do so when they held the presidency. They took the matter to the Employment Council in December 2005 but they failed, and they have not attempted to do anything since. They must do something.

Will the Government do what Lord Hunt—then a Health Minister—said he would do on 4 March 2003? He said that if there were difficulties, the further extension of the working time directive, due in 2009, could be deferred until 2012 and that instead of a 48-hour week, it would be possible to go up to 52 hours. Will the Secretary of State do that?