HC Deb 25 May 1976 vol 912 cc250-2
5. Mr. Forman

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he has any plans to issue any ministerial guidelines to doctors regarding clinical freedom within the National Health Service.

The Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Dr. David Owen)

No, Sir.

Mr. Forman

Is the Minister aware that hon. Members on the Opposition Benches are very grateful for that answer, because we feel that any further erosion of clinical freedom would be the last straw for the medical profession, whose morale has already been seriously damaged by this Government's policy?

Dr. Owen

Clinical freedom is a matter that is precious to both sides of the House, and it is something that should not be narrowly interpreted. Doctors have to make decisions that have an impact on their patients.

Mr. Christopher Price

Does the Minister agree that clinical freedom has to be considered in relation to the professional freedom of other professions within the National Health Service? The real problem is to persuade the various professions in the service to work together in a multi-disciplinary approach rather than to insist on their own freedom being more important than that of others.

Dr. Owen

No profession, be it medicine, law or teaching, can isolate itself from the community that it serves.

Dr. Vaughan

Does the Minister agree that fear of a loss of clinical freedom is the reason for doctors leaving the country? In view of the figures published in the Daily Mail, showing that more than 1,000 doctors left this country last year, what action does he propose to take?

Dr. Owen

The reasons why people emigrate are multifarious. No matter what anybody says, no doctor is motivated into leaving this country by the threat to clinical freedom. That is a canard that was put around in 1946, when the National Health Service Act was introduced. No one believes that any of these claims were substantiated in the light of history.

Mr. Fernyhough

In view of the substance of this question, can the Minister say whether any full-time consultants and doctors employed in looking after our Service men have made any complaints that they are in any way inhibited in terms of clinical freedom?

Dr. Owen

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that question. For two years I was responsible for the Naval Medical Service, and I found there that there was no threat to clinical freedom, and no anxiety on the part of its members about being full-time servants of the Crown.