HC Deb 16 May 1995 vol 260 cc139-40
6. Mr. Simon Coombs

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if she will make a statement on the provision of night time services by general practitioners. [22856]

Mr. Malone

Night-time services provided by family doctors are integral to British general practice. On 20 April, after discussions with general practitioner leaders, we proposed changes to strengthen services by increasing the support for local GPs working together to offer high-quality care to patients in their area.

Mr. Coombs

No doubt my hon. Friend is aware that the number of night visits by GPs has more than doubled in the four years to last year. Is he fully satisfied that the proposals that the Department has put to the BMA—on which it will vote in the next few days—reflect that fact? How satisfied is he that the BMA will accept what is, on the face of it, a very reasonable proposition?

Mr. Malone

It is perhaps not surprising that, when the hours of night cover were extended some years ago, night fees and the number of night visits increased. About 50 per cent. of the increase in visits is attributable to that increase in hours of cover.

As GPs across the country decide whether to accept the proposal, I ask them to bear two points in mind. First, it is fair to them; secondly, it is fair to their patients. It will encourage the sort of co-operative arrangement that I saw in Reading, which serves my hon. Friend's constituency. That is certainly one of the possible ways forward, providing first-class out-of-hours cover for patients.

Mr. Bryan Davies

If the services are satisfactory, will the Minister condemn, and take steps to stamp out, the practice of hotels charging their residents for night-time visits when they are taken ill on the ground that national health service provision is inadequate and private doctors must be called in?

Mr. Malone

There is nothing to prevent anyone who is resident in either a hotel or private premises from making his or her own arrangements to seek emergency care.

Mr. Budgen

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is, in general, great satisfaction in Wolverhampton about the way in which GPs provide night-time services? Will he pay a sincere compliment to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-East (Mr. Turner)? For 20 years, in all his observations about matters connected with the health service, the hon. Gentleman has screamed that there is a crisis, and has said that the best way of dealing with that crisis is to spend a large amount of someone else's money. Is he not to be commended for the splendid consistency of his views?

Mr. Malone

His consistency is the equivalent of others who cry wolf too often and eventually get ignored. My hon. Friend makes a good, substantive point—that care in his constituency is good. The proposals for GP out-of-hours cover are designed to improve on that, to reduce the burden on medical practitioners who wish to undertake fewer night visits and to ensure that the quality of care for patients is improved during that important period when they need to call on medical services.