§ 2. Mr. Speller
To ask the Secretary of State for Health what arrangements he has made for further medical checks and treatment of patients from North Devon who received excessive radiation during 1988 from the radiography department at the Royal Devon and Exeter hospital; when they may expect the first payment of any financial provision; when he expects to receive and reach a conclusion on the reports by independent specialists; what steps he has taken to ensure that treatment now being given is of the highest standard; and if he will make a statement.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mrs. Edwina Currie)
These are matters for the Exeter health authority. The report of the independent inquiry by Sir Bryan Thwaites and the conclusions of the medical assessments by Professor Joslin were published by the Exeter health authority on 6 December. All the recommendations have been accepted and are being implemented. I am satisfied that the care and treatment of cancer patients in the Royal Devon and Exeter hospital is being restored to the highest standards.
§ Mr. Speller
Does the Minister recall saying in June that there would be no whitewash? May I congratulate her on the fact that both reports indicate no whitewash and are a complete and honest statement of the sad facts.
Perhaps we should be thinking of insurance within health authorities. It is ludicrous that anyone should suggest that a local health authority can bear the vast costs that are certain to be incurred in this instance.
Finally, may I ask for my hon. Friend's assurance that she and her Department approve of and are satisfied with the procedure carried out by that health authority at present.
§ Mrs. Currie
First, I thank my hon. Friend for those remarks which I am sure will be appreciated by all concerned.
Secondly, in answer to my hon. Friend's last question, as I have said, we are sure that provided that all the details 753 and recommendations are implemented the standards at Exeter will speedily be restored to what they should have been in the first place.
Thirdly, with regard to insurance, it has long been Government policy—both of this Government and previous Governments—that the public authorities do not take out insurance. It certainly works out cheaper in the long run if they are self-insuring. I understand that the health authority has not yet worked out the details of offers in individual cases of compensation, but has already made payments to meet reasonable expenses of the patients concerned.
§ Sir Peter Emery
Does my hon. Friend accept that the Devon health authority has been very caring since the accident in trying to look after the patients affected? Does she approve the concept that I put to her that a panel of three, preferably composed of a retired High Court judge, an expert in cancer and an expert in medical compensation, should assess the claims of those people, not to take away their legal rights, but to try and ensure that compensation is paid quickly? That would ensure that those affected are not put to exorbitant costs by solicitors who must be mindful of the fees available when dealing with protracted cases of legal compensation.
§ Mrs. Currie
I am grateful for the suggestions that have been made by my hon. Friend and other hon. Members about the possibility of using independent assessors. May I refer my hon. Friend to the statement made by the chairman of Exeter health authority on 6 December in which he said thatthe Authority intends to deal with those claims as expeditiously as possible in a way which will cause as little distress to patients and their families as the circumstances will allow. The Authority has instructed its solicitors to reflect this desire".
§ Mrs. Currie
The hon. Gentleman may not be interested in cancer patients in Exeter, but Conservative Members are.
On that basis, I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that, although it does not appear that we shall need independent assessors at this time, we appreciate the constructive approach of patients' legal advisers.
§ Mr. Galbraith
These are tragic events that we all have a duty to ensure do not occur again. Does the Minister agree that such cases highlight the importance of clinical physicists and others in the Health Service involved in the provision of health care? Does she also agree that, over the years, the salaries of such groups have deteriorated in comparison with those of people in comparable professions outside? Will she therefore reconsider her Department's position and once again consider including in the pay review body's consideration clinical physicists and biochemists? If she does not, I fear that the position will continue to deteriorate and we may yet have other cases such as those in Exeter.
§ Mrs. Currie
We regard our hospital physicists and other hospital scientists as very important. The reports make that view plain, but they do not blame low pay for the mistakes. In our view, the mistakes were more the result of carelessness and incompetence than anything else. 754 An offer has been made through the Whitley councils to the physicists. They have not accepted it and discussions are continuing.