HC Deb 06 December 1968 vol 774 cc1961-5

11.5 a.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Mr. David Ennals)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I have a statement to make.

The Report of the Committee on the Hospital Scientific and Technical Services under the chairmanship of Sir Solly Zuckerman was published on Wednesday. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland wish to pay tribute to the Committee for its very valuable Report.

The Government share the Committee's view that science has an essential contribution to make to medicine in its own right and that there is an important place for the scientist in the medical team exercising functions which supplement those traditionally accepted by doctors and nurses. There is a need for highly-skilled scientists, both medically qualified and non-medically qualified, and it is essential that the work of scientists and technicians should be seen as a scientific service and coordinated so that the most effective use can be made of the skilled manpower available.

The Government agree with the Committee that administrative arrangements should be made to improve operational planning of scientific and technical services and the career planning and training of the staff taking part in them.

The proposals made by the Committee are far-reaching and will require detailed consideration by those concerned. We are now consulting hospital authorities and professional and staff organisations on a wide basis.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

May I join in the congratulations to the Committee and its Chairman on the work they have done in preparing this Report? As the Minister has said, the conclusions are far-reaching and will require detailed study.

All I should like to do now is to welcome the concept of scientific services in the hospital service for the extent to which it will both improve the support and strength of the medical team dealing with the sickness and provide a proper pay, conditions and, above all, career structure for the scientists involved in the hospital service, a structure comparable with that obtaining outside.

I have one question in this connection, and that is whether it is envisaged that the Whitley Council procedure will apply throughout the scientific service as well as the rest of the hospital service.

I have some further questions which the Minister may be able to answer now. It is envisaged by Sir Solly Zuckerman that the scientific service should have a three-tier structure, at national, regional and district level. First, how does this fit in with the proposed structure of the Health Service as set out in the Green Paper? Is it to be another functional division of the area board, which some of us consider to be already over-weight?

Secondly, what is the rôle of the teaching hospitals? The Report refers specifically to the rôle of boards of governors as well as regional boards, and I should like some assurance from the Minister that the rôle of teaching hospitals is in no way to be vitiated by this proposed new structure.

Thirdly, can he say anything about the proposed liaison with the appropriate departments of universities throughout the country? I hope that there will be some arrangements for post-graduate training and day release, and so on, of scientists and technicians within the new scientific service.

Fourthly, can he say anything about general practitioner support? Is it envisaged that the service will be able to give diagnostic help and diagnostic aids and process tests, thereby enabling some relief to be given to hospital out-patients' departments?

Finally, I hope that in his consultations the right hon. Gentleman will take account not only of those to whom he referred in his statement, but the representatives of the general practitioners and of the universities.

Mr. Ennals

The hon. Gentleman has raised a substantial number of issues. Perhaps I can give the general assurance, which particularly applies to his last question, but also to the rôle of the universities, that there will be very wide consultation. As the House will recognise, a large number of interests are involved, not just the many groups of technicians. Approximately 30 categories of technicians are mentioned in the Report and they will need to be consulted, but there will also have to be consultation with many aspects of the medical profession. It will take a little time to secure all these views and I was careful in making the statement not to tie myself to specific recommendations.

The hon. Gentleman was right to refer to the career structure, which may be the most important part of the Report. It is essential that we should both attract to and keep within the hospital service high quality scientists and we cannot expect to do that unless we can give them a career structure.

The three-tier structure will have to be considered in the consultations about the Green Paper which are now taking place. My right hon. Friend has said many times that the Paper does not commit the Government to the structure which it puts forward and the recommendations of the Zuckerman Report will be much considered when we are discussing the recommendations in the Paper.

I give an assurance that the rôle and significance of the teaching hospitals will in no way be vitiated by the recommendations if they are carried through by the Government. I hope that the expanding use of scientists in hospitals—there are now twice as many scientists in the Health Service as there were even 10 years ago—will increase the support in diagnostic services which the hospitals can give to general practitioners.

Mr. Oakes

The Report and my hon. Friend's statement will be warmly welcomed by scientists in hospitals. Will my hon. Friend give more details of the effect on the pay structure, a matter of crucial intrest to them?

Mr. Ennals

That is one of the assurances that I cannot give. I entirely agree that this will be warmly welcomed by the scientists, who are much concerned about their rôle within the hospital service.

May I make two points in this connection? It was not within the remit of Sir Solly Zuckerman and his Committee to look at the pay structure or pay recommendations. It was recognised that there would have to be changes in so far as a career structure would be established, and this is one of the matters which will be looked at by the Department in studying the Report, together with the representations which will come in from other organisations.

Mr. Hooson

Since, on the face of it, the Committee's recommendations appear to be in conflict to some extent with the proposals in the Green Paper, will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether the Zuckerman Committee considered the proposals in the Paper and did not follow them or did not really consider those proposals at all?

Mr. Ennals

In the introduction to the Report, Sir Solly Zuckerman points out that the Committee had before it a whole range of proposals relevant to its consideration. There is the Report of the Seebohm Committee which touches these questions as well, in addition to the Green Paper and many other Reports. These were before the Committee, but the Committee did not seek to comment on the Green Paper or those other Reports as such. However, it could be said that, since the Committee proposed a three-tier structure and the Green Paper does not include the third tier, there could to that extent be sonic conflict; and it is precisely at that point that we shall be giving the question careful consideration. I reiterate that the Government are not committed to the proposals in the Green Paper.

Mr. Roebuck

Do the Committee envisage a national organisation, or is it proposed that the organisation should be based on regional hospital boards? Could my hon. Friend give us his views on that?

Mr. Ennals

The answer really is both. It proposes that there should be a chief scientist and that there should be regional scientists. Nationally, the Committee propose that there should be a hospital scientific service with a national hospital scientific council, and at regional level there should be regional scientific centres. It is proposed, therefore, that there should be a national and a regional structure. I think that there is much greater emphasis paid to the national and regional structure than to the third tier, which might be related to hospital management committees.

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