HC Deb 18 July 1995 vol 263 cc1436-7
3. Dr. Wright

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans he has to review the working arrangements and contracts of consultants. [33210]

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Stephen Dorrell)

None. The working arrangements and contracts of consultants are a matter for individual national health service employers.

Dr. Wright

Has the Secretary of State seen a recent report on consultants' working patterns by John Yates, who has advised the Government on waiting lists? In the light of that report, can the right hon. Gentleman explain why some consultant surgeons are operating five times as much as others? In particular, can he explain why some consultant surgeons who are working on maximum NHS contracts are finding it possible to work in the private sector for two or three half-days a week? John Yates has asked for a full and urgent inquiry; will the Minister give us one?

Mr. Dorrell

Let me begin by thanking various hon. Members for their good wishes on my appointment. I hope that they will not evaporate too quickly.

I am aware of the work that John Yates has done, but I do not agree with his conclusion, which appears to be that the planning of consultants' time is best handled at a national planning level. I think that it is best handled at the level of local management of the individual unit.

The hon. Gentleman asked why individual consultants' working patterns vary in different parts of the national health service. The answer is that individual consultants' agreements with local NHS employers vary in different parts of the NHS. I should have thought that not only Conservatives but Opposition Members would welcome that. Let me refer the hon. Gentleman to page 26 of the Labour party's NHS policy document, in which, under the heading "Staff: the most vital resource", Labour commits itself to the following proposition: We favour local flexibility to meet local need. I agree at least with members of the Labour party who sign up to that policy.

Mr. Rowe

I agree with my right hon. Friend about local arrangements. Does he agree with me that there is national anxiety about the work of consultants who are suspended from their own trusts? It strikes me as extraordinary that a consultant who has been suspended should be able to continue to work in the private sector without let or hindrance. There have also been far too many cases of consultants who have been suspended finding work in other trusts.

Mr. Dorrell

I entirely agree that the maintenance of professional standards of medical conduct, both in the NHS and in private practice, is an important issue for the medical authorities and, ultimately, the General Medical Council to consider. I welcome the fact that the Medical (Professional Performance) Bill, which was passed earlier in the Session, will allow a more rigorous view to be taken by the medical authorities. I shall follow up my hon. Friend's point in that context.

Ms Jowell

Why does the Department propose to stop collecting information about the availability and use of operating theatres? Is it not because the Government want to fiddle the figures for the number of operations that are carried out and cancelled, just as they have fiddled the unemployment figures over the past 10 years?

Mr. Dorrell

No, it is much more straightforward than that. We should collect information that we are going to use; we should not waste taxpayers' resources by collecting information for which there is no effective use, so the test to be applied to all administrative routines in the national health service is: will this improve patient care? If it does not pass that test, the administrative routine will be abolished.