HC Deb 17 October 1990 vol 177 cc1208-10
9. Mr. Ingram

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met Scottish health board chairmen to discuss the national health service in Scotland.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

I met the chairmen of health boards on 29 June.

Mr. Ingram

It is unlikely that the Minister would have had an opportunity to discuss with them the report produced recently by the Institute of Manpower Studies, commissioned by the Scottish Office, which showed a worrying wastage rate among nurses because of the lack of opportunity to involve themselves in patient care and because of cuts in wage rates. Will the Minister discuss that report at his next meeting with board chairmen, which I hope will be in the not-too-distant future? Is not that report a damning indictment of 11 years of Tory policy and of the Government's attitude to the health service, which nurses are leaving in droves?

Mr. Forsyth

We are anxious to improve the opportunities for recruiting nurses and other staff to the health service. The hon. Gentleman will recognise, if he is fair, that since 1979 the number of nurses in the health service has increased substantially, as has their pay—by about one quarter in real terms. I confess that I have not read the report to which he refers, but I will do so and respond to the points that he made.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Will my hon. Friend confirm that one of the objectives of health service reform is to encourage greater public involvement and interest? In relation to the reform of local health councils, is my hon. Friend satisfied that in large areas such as Grampian there will be adequate representation of both rural and urban interests? Even rural interests can be very disparate. Will he re-examine local health council reorganisation to ensure that it will provide genuine local involvement?

Mr. Forsyth

My view, which is shared by Opposition spokesmen, is that in general it will be better to have one health council per health board, with the resources to operate as a strong organisation and on an equal footing. I shall be answering today a question tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) about the possibility, as suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), of having more than one health council per board.

There is nothing to prevent boards from proposing schemes which involve more than one health council, although our preference is for only one such council.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

I was right. Withdraw the circular.

Mr. Forsyth

If the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) will allow me to answer my right hon. Friend's question, he may then catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.

Our preference is for health councils that are strong enough to represent the voice of the consumer effectively, but health boards may suggest schemes that provide for more than one health council, and they will be considered on their merits.

Mr. Galbraith

When the Minister next meets the chairmen of the health boards, will he discuss with the chairman of Greater Glasgow health board the continuing public utterances of his general manager, who only yesterday said that the national health service in Glasgow is "second class"? That same general manager recently issued a warning to his staff that if any of them publicly criticise the NHS in Glasgow, they will be summarily dismissed. In that, he included comments to Members of Parliament. Yet only yesterday, in the surroundings of the luxurious Gleneagles hotel, the same general manager deprecated the Greater Glasgow health board and its services, for which he personally is responsible. Why do we have such double standards, whereby the general manager can criticise the health service but the rest of the staff cannot? If the general manager can criticise, so can the rest of the staff.

Mr. Forsyth

It is the general manager's job to identify deficiencies in the health service and to put them right. I pay tribute to what Laurence Peterken has done in the health service. In Greater Glasgow health board, Lennox Castle, in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, was identified as a hospital in need of improvement by the general manager, and it has been transformed. In that speech, Lawrence Peterken was saying that it was no part of the business of the health service to continue with inadequate Victorian buildings and that we wanted an efficient service providing the highest standards of care. That is the Government's belief. Only a fool would argue that there are no problems in the health service. There are problems. The Government are the first to have tackled them for a very long time and have delivered a higher standard of patient care.