HC Deb 27 April 1988 vol 132 cc332-3
2. Mr. Buchanan-Smith

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the current proportion of confinements in (a) general practitioner units, and (b) specialist consultancy hospitals.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

The latest figures are 7.1 and 92.9 per cent. respectively.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that general practitioner units, including those in rural areas, have a good record and an important part to play? I cannot expect him to comment at this stage, but, in relation to the proposals from Grampian health board about Torphins hospital in my area, will he bear in mind that if such proposals go ahead a large area with a big population, which is not easily accessible to Aberdeen, will be deprived of proper local maternity services?

Mr. Forsyth

My right hon. Friend has made clear his views on the Torphins proposal. Indeed, on 15 April he met my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and members of the Torphins Action Group. I can assure my right hon. Friend that, when the formal submission from Grampian health board goes to my right hon. and learned Friend, we shall take into account all the arguments that he has put forward and, indeed, all the submissions that we receive, before reaching any conclusion.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

Are we to take it from his comments that the Minister has not yet received comments from Grampian health board? When does he expect to respond to proposals? What facilities will be offered by the Scottish Office for consultation and negotiation with the many interested parties in Grampian region on the future of maternity units? Does he agree that the centralisation of such facilities would be to the detriment of freedom of choice for mothers in rural communities?

Mr. Forsyth

For a moment I thought that the hon. Lady was going to congratulate Grampian health board on acceeding to a request not to close the unit at Keith in her constituency.

As the hon. Lady knows, consultation is the responsibility of the health board. On her question about a submission from the health board, I can say that we had an initial approach, following the board meeting on 7 April. We have yet to receive formal submissions from the board. Obviously, we shall consider them and reach a conclusion as quickly as possible.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does my hon. Friend agree that the health board should act constructively, sensibly and sympathetically to the problems of the far flung parts of our rural constituencies—the glens? Does he also agree that there are difficulties in getting to specialist units for confinement? Does he accept that the recent pay increase for nurses and others in the Health Service will substantially improve morale and service, and that that can only be good for all hospitals?

Mr. Forsyth

I agree with my hon. Friend. All health boards have a duty to review the services that they offer to ensure that the best use is made of resources and that the service meets the needs of the widest range of patients. Obviously, that includes taking into account the rural areas. My hon. Friend is quite right to refer to nurses' pay, which under this Government has increased in real terms by 44 per cent.

Mr. Ernie Ross

Not in Scotland.

Mr. Forsyth

The hon. Gentleman says, "Not in Scotland." When the Labour party was in power, nurses' pay was cut by 20 per cent. in real terms.

Dr. Reid

Is the Minister aware that many hospitals in Grampian and elsewhere, including Hartwood hospital in my constituency, are going through a tendering process for hospital services? Does he recall the Morrison directive, which stated that when considering tendering, cost should not be the only factor? Will he assure the House that he will not use his powers to insist that any particularly hospital must place a contract with the lowest tenderer, if that may result in a worse quality of services for patients?

Mr. Forsyth

I can help the hon. Gentleman rather more than he asks. I shall send him a copy of the advice that the Department has given to health boards. It makes it quite clear that competitive tendering is not simply about making savings. It is also about ensuring quality of service. We expect that competitive tendering will result in savings and, indeed, improved standards. That has been the experience in England. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take the opportunity to dissociate himself from those in the Labour party and in the trade union movement who fought so hard against competitive tendering, even though it offers many benefits to hospital services.