HC Deb 29 March 1962 vol 656 cc1532-3
6. Mr. K. Robinson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will initiate discussions with the Minister of Health as to the desirability of merging the prison medical service with the National Health Service.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke)

In the medical treatment of prisoners advantage is already taken of specialist services provided under the National Health Service, and my right hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health look forward to further progress in this direction so far as this is consistent with my right hon. Friend's responsibility to this House for the treatment of prisoners generally.

Mr. Robinson

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman not aware that the position of the prison medical service is very serious, that recruitment is most disappointing as regards both quality and numbers, and that the average age in the service is dangerously high? In view of the fact that most good doctors are required to cut themselves off from the main stream of medicine by joining this separate service, will he not give further consideration to the possibility of a complete merger in the future?

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

In fact there is not much cutting off because the majority of medical officers are already part-time in the service and are also engaged in the National Health Service, mainly as general practitioners. There is also some sharing of specialists, and close co-operation generally. I quite agree that we have to keep an open mind on this subject, and we do so.

Miss Bacon

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the medical service is the most neglected part of the Prison Service, which is a great condemnation? Would he not look into this matter again and give my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. K. Robinson) some assurance that his suggestion will be carried out? Can he go further and say whether or not consideration has been given to the point I made some time ago as to the desirability of one Prison Commissioner being responsible for the medical services in prisons?

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

It is a pleasure to see the hon. Lady back at that Box again. We will certainly take up the thread where she last dropped it on the last point, and I will let the hon. Lady know. I cannot give any further assurance that this merger will take place because there are strong objections, but I can say that we will keep our minds open.