HC Deb 29 April 1986 vol 96 cc770-2
5. Mr. Dubs

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what representations he has received about his proposals on National Health Service accommodation.

7. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what recent representations he has received about accommodation for National Health Service employees; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister for Health (Mr. Barney Hayhoe)

Since the new national policy was announced last July, about 200 letters have been received. In some cases concern has been expressed that staff might be evicted as a result of this policy. But, as my right hon. Friend made clear in his written answer on 25 April, no one will be required to move from his or her present accommodation without being offered a suitable alternative place to live.

Mr. Dubs

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, despite the parliamentary answer to which he referred, there is still widespread concern among NHS staff—nurses, ancillary workers and others—that they will be pressurised to leave their homes? Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that no one who works for the NHS will be forcibly evicted or removed from his home?

Mr. Hayhoe

As I made it clear, no one will be required as part of this policy to move from his present accommodation without being offered a suitable alternative place in which to live. I am glad that this question gives me a further opportunity to clarify the position and, I hope, to put straight the record, which some people are deliberately seeking to misrepresent.

Mr. Canavan

As many Health Service employees in Scotland live in genuine fear of eviction, will the right hon. Gentleman extend his absolute guarantee to Health Service employees north of the border who live in such accommodation? As much of the NHS living accommodation is in an appalling state of disrepair, because Crown immunity exempts health authorities from the obligation to carry out the necessary repairs, will the right hon. Gentleman abolish Crown immunity in that respect, too, so that Health Service employees have the same rights as other tenants?

Mr. Hayhoe

One objective of the present policy of disposing of vacant and surplus property is to produce the resources which can be ploughed back to modernise and bring existing property up to a decent standard.

Mr. McCrindle

Because of the emotive way in which the matter is being dealt with by the Royal College of Nursing of the United Kingdom and, evidently, the Opposition, will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to restore a sense of perspective by reminding us of the number of employees who live in property owned by the health authorities and the percentage of total employees who do so?

Mr. Hayhoe

This residential accommodation is designed particularly for certain professional trainees—junior doctors, student nurses, and other staff—especially in inner city areas. A little more than half the junior doctors, a little under half the student nurses, and fewer than one in 10 qualified nurses live in such accommodation.

Mr. Norris

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the real outrage would occur if the Government neglected the massive amount of property owned by the NHS which deserves to be developed for the better care of patients rather than distributed haphazardly, as at present?

Mr. Hayhoe

My hon. Friend is right. If we extend the matter way beyond the residential accommodation that we are discussing, it is clear that substantial resources are locked up in those properties, which could be disposed of and the resources used for the benefit of patients in general.

Mr. Evans

Where will the NHS get the suitable accommodation from?

Mr. Hayhoe

That will depend upon local circumstances.

Mr. Robert Atkins

What representations has my right hon. Friend received about NHS accommodation for young arthritically disabled children at the Wrightington hospital in Lancashire, bearing in mind the importance to local people of this regional centre of excellence, which the North-West area health authority proposes to close?

Mr. Hayhoe

May I write to my hon. Friend on this matter? Clearly the individuals whom he he has in mind are not NHS employees.

Mr. Kirkwood

The Minister said that no one would be evicted unless suitable alternative accommodation was offered. Is he aware that there are areas where there is no such suitable alternative accommodation? What happens if the offer is turned down? Who defines what is suitable?

Mr. Hayhoe

That must be a matter for local judgment, but it is wholly reasonable that, as part of this policy, one should seek to make more effective use of the NHS estate. If someone is seeking unreasonably to prevent that from happening and suitable alternative accommodation is made available, he is being treated fairly.

Mr. Rogers

Does the Minister accept that often, especially in rural areas where there are psychiatric hospitals well away from any conurbation, there is great difficulty in finding suitable alternative accommodation? In urban areas, where suitable accommodation may be available, because of the low salaries paid to those involved in the Health Service they cannot afford it.

Mr. Hayhoe

More than 90 per cent. of qualified nurses do not live in such accommodation, and, as I said, the stress points are in the inner-city areas.

Mr. Meacher

Is the Minister aware that up to 50,000 nurses and auxiliaries could be forced to leave their NHS homes within the next two years? Is he also aware that, contrary to the impression he has given, some health authorities have already jumped the gun and started to evict staff, even though they are supposed to have at least a year to make alternative arrangements? How can a third-year learner nurse on £4,500 a year find another home in London, where flats are at least £50 a week, which is almost her entire take-home pay?

Mr. Hayhoe

The hon. Gentleman has his figures wrong. I made them clear, but the sort of figures he gave are wholly inaccurate. The intention is that provision should be made for all student nurses, but just under half the student nurses occupy such accommodation.