HC Deb 07 February 1979 vol 962 cc372-4
5. Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make an up-to-date statement on the operation of all National Health Service hospital, medical, ambulance and emergency services, in the interests of the health and well-being of citizens throughout Scotland.

13. Mr. Alexander Fletcher

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement about the effect on patient care of industrial disputes in the National Health Service in Scotland.

Mr. Millan

Most hospitals are providing normal in-patient and out-patient services, although in some areas admissions are restricted to urgent cases and there are reduced laundry and catering facilities. Normal ambulance services are available for patients in most areas, but in Aberdeen only accident and emergency services are being provided.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Will the Minister give the House an assurance that he will take all necessary steps to ensure that the lives of those in hospitals throughout Scotland are protected?

Mr. Milian

I give that assurance. In all the circumstances the welfare of patients must come first.

Mr. Fletcher

What advice has the Secretary of State given to hospital authorities to enable them to cope with the serious disruption that may occur on Monday if the unions fulfil their promise to take further industrial action? Will the Secretary of State say that he will encourage volunteers to cross the picket lines and give of their services in hospitals, wherever they are required?

Mr. Millan

We are now dealing with situations locally. I am glad to say that the health boards are basically coping with the difficulties. If the situation were to become worse, with widespread industrial action, I should certainly consider sending them further advice. I do not think that is necessary now. They know the position and how best to cope with local situations as they arise.

Mr. Sproat

Is the Minister aware of the desperate anxiety in Aberdeen, especially among the sick and elderly, about the fact that only an emergency ambulance service is now being offered? What later steps has the Minister taken to persuade the ambulance men to return to a full service as soon as possible?

Mr. Millan

Steps can be taken to persuade people, but at the end of the day I am not able to compel them to go back to normal working. The police are helping us to cope in Aberdeen. If the situation there became worse, we could still cope with it. I want to see normal services resumed everywhere. I am sorry that we have this difficulty in Aberdeen.

Mr. George Robertson

Will the Secretary of State accept that his initiatives with the four trade unions involved in this dispute in Scotland have met with widespread approval there? Will he continue to make it his first priority to obtain a long-term settlement of this dispute and ignore provocations, from wherever they come, that would exacerbate the existing situation?

Mr. Millan

As I made clear to the House yesterday, the industrial action that has taken place in Scotland so far has been limited compared with what has been happening in England. I hope that that situation will continue. I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that the various negotiations should proceed as urgently as possible. In so far as I have an influence in these matters, it will be directed towards that end.