HC Deb 17 April 1991 vol 189 cc410-1
9. Mrs. Margaret Ewing

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland when he last met representatives of Grampian health board to discuss reorganisation of the health service.

Mr. Michael Forsyth

I hold regular meetings with health board representatives to discuss issues affecting the NHS in Scotland.

Mrs. Ewing

Is the Minister aware of the grave disquiet throughout the Grampian health board area about the handling of the Foresterhill opt-out, whereby overwhelming medical and public opinion was overruled by what appeared to be Stalinist tactics at St. Andrew's house? Can the Minister define for the House the importance that he attaches to democratic expression of opinion? This matter greatly concerns my constituents because West Grampian unit is also currently undergoing a consultation process and it seems clear from the Minister's previous actions that consultation is meaningless and that his own views count more than anyone else's.

Mr. Forsyth

I am sorry that the hon. Lady should seek to politicise the matter. The initiative to look at national health service trust status for Foresterhill has come from management and medical people who believe that there will be an opportunity to improve patient care. I understand that consideration is also being given to the possibility of trust status in the West Grampian district, although I have no detailed knowledge of that as the initiative comes from the local districts. Should an application come to my right hon. Friend, as I understand that we expect it will, a three-month period of consultation will be required. I hope that the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) and others will apply only one criterion in assessing the application —whether patient care will benefit—and that party politics will be set aside.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Does the Minister not realise that the decision by the Grampian health board on 7 February to recommend that an opt-out application be made seriously prejudices the board's capacity to conduct the consultation period in an objective manner? If an application is submitted, how can the Minister ensure that the consultation period will be undertaken with the public confident that it will be neutral and that the facts will be properly and straightforwardly reported to the Minister so that he can follow his own criterion and apply a non-political judgment?

Mr. Forsyth

The decision will be taken not by Grampian health board, but by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who will do so after a period of consultation. I understand that the Labour party has plans to use the common good fund in Aberdeen to campaign against national health service trust status. It would seem that the common good of Aberdeen would best be met by people looking at proposals that have come from those involved at the sharp end of health care provision with a view to considering them in the light of whether they satisfy patient care.

Foresterhill started out as a hospital run by a board of management in the NHS. It has served Aberdeen extremely well, and those who argue for local community organisation and running do so because they believe that it is in the interests of Aberdeen and the constituents of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes).

Mr. Malcolm Bruce

Will the Minister answer two simple questions? Many people in Grampian are asking why the status quo was not an option with regard to Foresterhill. How can the people of Grampian have confidence in a health board which initially said that it had no locus in determining the result, was neutral and relied on a proposal from the hospital, but, when that proposal was not forthcoming, stated that it would have welcomed it? It now says that it will objectively consult the people of Grampian. How can the people of Grampian have confidence that the health board will take account of their welfare?

Mr. Forsyth

I should have thought that if the hon. Gentleman were interested in obtaining a genuine consultation period he would realise that the sort of remarks that he has made would not be helpful towards achieving that. The board's responsibility is to look at the requirements for health care in Grampian and, to the best of its ability and within the resources available, to provide for that. If the board believes that the initiative from doctors and management for NHS trust status is in the interests of patient care, I should have thought that, as a Member of Parliament, the hon. Gentleman would give careful consideration to the arguments put forward by the board and do his best to ensure that the consultation process is not turned into a political farce.

Mr. Andy Stewart

Does my hon. Friend agree that the criterion used to judge the success of the national health service is not the number of beds but the number of patients treated?

Mr. Forsyth

Indeed, I do. Some 900,000 extra patients are treated each year, compared with the number treated when the Government took power. Were NHS trust status —which is attracting interest in Grampian—to be forthcoming, it would mean that the hospital at Foresterhill would be able to take decisions at hospital level and those directly involved in the provision of care would have far more say in the decision-making process. It is ironic that those who argue for devolution on a political basis seem to be against it in the health service.