HC Deb 11 June 1968 vol 766 cc21-3
26. Dr. Summerskill

asked the Minister of Health what steps he is taking to encourage doctors to remain in this country rather than leaving to work permanently abroad.

Mr. K. Robinson

A number of important improvements in the working conditions of hospital doctors were agreed last year and further proposals have been made with a view to improving career planning and prospects of junior doctors. As regards general practice, I would refer my hon. Friend to my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Bishop) on 5th February.—[Vol. 758, c. 13–14.] My aim is to improve still further, in consultation with representatives of the profession, working conditions throughout the National Health Service as the best means of encouraging doctors to remain in this country.

Dr. Summerskill

Would not my right hon. Friend agree that the emigration of at least 500 doctors a year is extremely serious? Has he implemented the suggestions made to him by the group of doctors who recently visited America to interview other doctors who had emigrated there?

Mr. Robinson

Yes, Sir. I have certainly considered that report and I agree that emigration is a serious problem. However, it is not a new problem and nor is it one confined to this country. The best statistics I have available suggest that, on average, in the three years ending September, 1965—the latest date for which figures are available—the annual net loss of British doctors was about 370.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

Is the Minister aware that the hand-out his Ministry issued on Friday, 5th January, indicated that the main reasons for doctors leaving the country were medical, that is, the conditions of work, and the main reasons for their return were non-medical, that is, considerations about children's education and so on? Therefore, when considering net figures such as those he has just quoted, will he bear in mind that what is bringing the doctors back is not necessarily the conditions of the National Health Service, although that may be what is sending them out in the first place?

Mr. Robinson

We are steadily improving conditions in the National Health Service. As I said in my reply, it is our aim to make further progress in this direction.

Dr. John Dunwoody

Will my right hon. Friend look at the position of the junior partners in general practice partnerships, as the conditions of service and the partnership agreements they have signed are sometimes the reasons why they emigrate?

Mr. Robinson

This may well be the case, but my hon. Friend knows that the question of partnership agreements freely entered into between doctors is not a matter for me.

Mr. Costain

Is the Minister aware that a number of doctors are writing to their Members of Parliament saying that they wish to emigrate, because they feel that they are losing the art of medicine in this country and are becoming form-fillers and not healers?

Mr. Robinson

I think that there were always a small minority of doctors who wrote in this strain.