HC Deb 02 February 1998 vol 305 cc702-3
2. Dr. Harris

What monitoring exists in respect of health care provided for asylum and immigration detainees in privately run detention centres. [24613]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien)

Medical services at detention centres are subcontracted. The local director of public health is consulted as necessary on the specifications of the contract. The contracts are closely monitored, both by the contractor and the immigration service. There are regular meetings of the detention medical co-ordination committee, involving medical officers, the Prison Service and the immigration service.

Independent visiting committees monitor all aspects of the operations at detention centres and report to the Home Office. At Campsfield house in the hon. Gentleman's constituency there is a general practitioner on the visiting committee, Dr. Pander, who liaises on medical care with the centre doctor. Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons has carried out recent inspections at both Tinsley house and Campsfield house; both reports dealt with medical issues. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has also recently visited to look into these issues.

Dr. Harris

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. Does he share my concern that the increasing subcontracting—as between the immigration service, then a privately run security service, then a private medical company, and then private practitioners—may prompt questions about accountability? Is he not worried about the alleged under-provision of psychiatric services for people who are detained indefinitely without being given a reason? Is there not an opportunity to carry out good health screening on these people, who are least able to be their own advocates and who do not have access to patients charter rights?

Mr. O'Brien

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of at least some parts of his question. There is a need for more co-ordination of medical standards in detention centres. Indeed, the detention medical co-ordination committee meets regularly to improve co-ordination. The local director of public health is often consulted—I understand that at Campsfield house there is regular contact with the local director.

In some places, the quality of psychiatric care provided for detainees is better than the quality of care available to the hon. Gentleman's other constituents. Not only are doctors and nurses on call 24 hours a day, but consultants can be brought in when needed and services are provided quickly—perhaps more quickly than they are for the general population.

I do not accept that any detainees are detained without a reason.

Mr. Cox

What accountability do private contractors for health and other services have to boards of visitors?

Mr. O'Brien

Contractors are accountable in the sense that they have a closely monitored contract with the Home Office and the immigration service, and the Home Office and immigration service pay great heed to the reports of the visitors' committees. We are moving towards regular special reports on the medical facilities at detention centres because, as the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) and my hon. Friend have said, we need to get standards right. As for contractors' operations, we must ensure greater co-ordination and allow visitors' committees the control that we should like them to have.

Mr. Wilkinson

As Heathrow airport, the largest port of entry to the United Kingdom, is in the same borough as my constituency—with Harmondsworth detention centre alongside it—can the Minister tell me whether any of these medical monitoring costs fall on the local authority?

Mr. O'Brien

Only in the sense that there is regular consultation, given that the people in the area are likely to be treated by local doctors. We must ensure proper control procedures and high standards of medical provision for detainees. The costs are limited; they are aimed at maintaining the highest quality of care for detainees.