HC Deb 09 March 1966 vol 725 cc2077-8
3. Mr. Stodart

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what action he proposes to take in order to arrest the falling-off in the numbers of doctors engaged in general practice.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Judith Hart)

I believe that the measures in hand to provide better conditions for general practice, including the proposals for a new contract which are at present under discussion, will encourage doctors to enter and to remain in the family doctor service.

Mr. Stodart

Will the hon. Lady confirm that throughout every year up to 1963 there was a steady increase in the number of medical practitioners at work in Scotland; that in the last half of 1964 the decline began, and there were nine who retired or emigrated; and that in the last half of 1965 that was quadrupled to 38? Does she regard that as satisfactory?

Mrs. Hart

Certainly I should not have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have regarded it as satisfactory, because he will remember that it is the decisions of a previous Government in 1957 about the training of doctors which are determining the numbers coming into the profession at the moment. That is why we are examining the question with the Royal Commission on Medical Education as a matter of extreme urgency.

Mr. Noble

The hon. Lady must be a little more honest with the House. It is not a question of the number of people coming in but the number of people leaving. That has quadrupled.

Mrs. Hart

The right hon. Gentleman is forgetting the fact that, when people grow old, they retire. What matters is the number of young entrants coming in. We are not deeply concerned about emigration. We are satisfied that many medical students wish to work for a few months in America, for example, and then come back. The basic question is that of training enough young doctors to replace those who retire.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Does not the fall in the number of doctors mean that the number of patients that a doctor has to look after is higher than at any time since 1950?

Mrs. Hart

Only fractionally. If the hon. Gentleman wants the numbers, there are over 2,600 doctors providing medical services in Scotland at the moment, compared with, to go back three or four years, about 30, 40 or 50 more. That is accounted for by the fact that we have not so many young people coming in at the moment.