HC Deb 07 November 1989 vol 159 cc820-1
4. Mr. Morgan

To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he expects the number of perfusionists employed by the National Health Service to reach its target.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Roger Freeman)

There is no national target for the number of perfusionists, who are staff who work the heart and lung machinery in cardiac surgery, to be employed in the National Health Service. It is for health authorities to arrange appropriate staffing levels in the light of local needs.

Mr. Morgan

Does the Minister agree that that is an unsatisfactory reply? He must know that it has been estimated that the NHS needs 200 perfusionists, but at present has only 90. Will he also accept from me that perfusionists not only operate the heart and lung machines in cardiac surgery but are vital in the treatment of lymph cancer? Until the Government recognise the new technique of limb perfusion for the treatment of lymph cancer and recompense those few excellent hospitals that seek to treat lymph cancer by limb perfusion for the high cost of that treatment, we will never reach a satisfactory solution to the present tug of war between the cardiac surgery departments and lymph cancer departments of every hospital that can offer limb perfusion? People are virtually begging for that treatment, which is vital.

Mr. Freeman

We are well on target to meet the 1990 aim of some 15,000 bypass graft operations for cardiac patients. With effect from 1 September we have introduced into the NHS a new flexible pay-grading structure for technicians. They have greatly welcomed that structure and it will help us to ensure that the 1990 target is met.

Mr. Sims

Does my hon. Friend agree that perfusionists play a key role in operations ranging from heart bypasses right through to complete organ transplants? Is he aware that 22 perfusionists left the NHS within the past 12 months and that perfusionists are not specified in the grading letter to which my hon. Friend referred? They feel unrecognised and inadequately rewarded. Will he consider their case seriously to see whether he can do something about their numbers because that is vital?

Mr. Freeman

I agree with my hon. Friend that perfusionists perform a vital task in cardiac surgery and elsewhere in our hospitals. I draw to his attention the fact that they have welcomed the new flexible pay-grading structure. I shall, however, certainly reflect on what my hon. Friend has said and I shall have a close look at the letter that we issued to the Health Service.

Mr. Ron Brown

I do not believe that any right hon. or hon. Member would disagree that the argument about perfusionists is important, but surely it is more important at this time that we resolve the ambulance drivers' dispute, which has been imposed on the people—

Mr. Speaker

Order. That was a good try, but I am afraid it is miles wide of the question.