HC Deb 18 June 1974 vol 875 cc195-7
14. Mrs. Knight

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is her policy with regard to the future of the private practice of medicine by doctors and consultants who also work within the National Health Service.

33. Mr. Leslie Huckfield

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is her policy about the future of private practice by doctors and consultants who work within the National Health Service.

Dr. Owen

The contractual arrangements for private practice by senior hospital doctors and dentists working in National Health Service hospitals are to be considered in the joint working party with representatives of the professions which I am chairing.

Mrs. Knight

Will the Minister make sure that the committee also studies carefully the cost to the taxpayer if all treatments now being carried out privately were to become a charge on the National Health Service, taking account also of the certain loss of doctors and consultants to countries which pay more handsomely and permit freedom of professional action if that were to vanish in Britain?

Dr. Owen

No doubt those are some of the factors to be discussed, but, equally, I hope that the working party will look at the cost to the health service of people with particular skills, such as vascular and cardiac surgeons, operating on varicose veins and carrying out other operations which could be done by people without these skills.

Mr. Huckfield

Many of us on the Government side are grateful for the commitment in the Labour Party manifesto to phase out private practice, but we should be truly happy only with its complete abolition, in view of its attendant evils of fee paying and queue jumping. A start on this could be made tomorrow by ensuring that for certain consultant posts in certain specialities and in certain geographic areas for GPs, only full-time National Health Service contracts are issued.

Dr. Owen

The balance between part-time and full-time contracts is one of the questions to be discussed in the joint working party. The manifesto commitment to phase out private practice from the hospital service is well known to the British Medical Association and to other doctors. We decided that the way to deal with this matter, since it is a contractual question, was to discuss it first in an atmosphere of trying to reach agreement.

Mr. Michael Marshall

Will the Minister explain his answer as it affects dentists? Will he state his policy for helping to overcome the particular problems of those people who are unable to obtain dental treatment under the National Health Service at the present moment?

Dr. Owen

The Secretary of State and I are deeply concerned about the number of people who are failing to obtain dental treatment within the National Health Service. We recognise that we must look at the whole structure, not just at the salaries but at the conditions for dentists, to try to make National Health Service practice more attractive to them.

Mr. Roderick

Labour Members believe that the degree of illness is what matters most and not the savings that might accrue to the National Health Service. Many of our constituents are forced to pay private fees because of the queue jumping that goes on, and some of them can never hope to obtain a position at the head of the queue.

Dr. Owen

It is difficult to explain to anyone why he should have to wait for a year and a half for an operation when he can see the same surgeon, in the same operating theatre, with the same nurses and technicians, treating privately someone who has waited only a month.

Sir G. Howe

Does the Minister appreciate that many people outside the House, both within and without the medical profession, take very little comfort from the fact that he is to be chairman of the joint working party, in view of his well-known commitment to the abolition of private practice? Will he say whether that commitment extends to the prohibition of private dental practice? Does he also acknowledge that to abolish private practice, whether dental, medical or surgical, would only diminish the funds available for the financing of the health service itself and financing the retention of consultant care?

Dr. Owen

We are not discussing abolition but a commitment to phase out private practice from the National Health Service. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is the same thing."] The hon. Member will soon discover, if he gives the matter any serious examination, that it is not the same thing. I do not know how the right hon. and learned Gentleman has come to know my own private views, but at least I practised what I preach and always worked within the National Health Service.