§ 1. Mr. Stan Thorne
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he has revised his plans for an increase in the number of consultants as a result of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement on 7 July.
§ The Minister for Health (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)
As my right hon. Friend made clear on 7 July, it will be necessary for health authorities to work to lower manpower targets for 1984, but we remain committed to the policy objective of improving the medical staffing structure, and therefore the quality of medical care, by increasing the ratio of consultants to junior staff.
§ Mr. Thorne
Is the Minister aware of the considerable strain on consultants operating in hospitals and the tremendous suffering that is caused to certain patients who cannot get access to the treatment and operations that only consultants can provide?
§ Mr. Clarke
In the four years from 1978 to 1982 the number of consultants has increased by 992, which is an increase of 8.1 per cent. I am not yet aware that as a result of the statement of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer we have failed to fill a solitary consultant's place. As I said, we are committed to our policies and we shall steadily improve matters.
§ Mr. Ashley
Will the Minister comment on the distribution of consultants, as well as their numbers, because in the west midlands there is less than one consultant per million people, whereas the Thames region has seven consultants per million people? Does he agree that this crazy maldistribution means that the people in the west midlands are less well cared for, and that this matter requires urgent action by him?
§ Mr. Clarke
The unfair distribution of resources goes back to the beginning of the National Health Service. However, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. We continue to redistribute resources—and, therefore, consultant staff—in our allocation of moneys. As a result, we continue to give the west midlands region growth money, and we have told it to continue planning in the expectation of increased resources over the next 10 years.
§ Mr. Madden
Does the Minister agree that, as a result of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement, about 20,000 NHS staff, including doctors and nurses, will be sacked? Will he confirm the report in the The Sunday Times last weekend that if these cuts are implemented they will cut deeply into the provision for the care of the elderly throughout Britain?
§ Mr. Clarke
That figure is completely exaggerated. There is no question of 20,000 jobs being lost. We are consulting the regional chairmen about the new manpower targets for 1984. We believe that a more efficient use of manpower, which is our main resource, can be achieved without any adverse effect on patient services.