HC Deb 08 June 1999 vol 332 cc445-6
1. Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

If he will make a statement on the quality of service at the Royal Surrey hospital. [84996]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Denham)

It is the responsibility of management and doctors to ensure the quality of services provided locally.

Patients and general practitioners have a right to know that their local health service hospital is performing well. As a first step, we will be publishing hospital-based indicators shortly. On 28 May, it was announced that the Royal Surrey hospital would receive £276,000 from the accident and emergency modernisation fund to enable it to open up a medical admissions unit. The unit will reduce the need for patients to stay overnight in the accident and emergency department.

Mr. St. Aubyn

That contribution is welcome, but waiting lists at the Royal Surrey hospital are still higher than two years ago; the turnover of nursing staff has reached 28 per cent; and 20 per cent. of nursing staff places are currently unfilled. Since the abolition of the internal market, there has been a recurring deficit at the Royal Surrey of £1.4 million a year, which led to the closure last Saturday of one of the clinical wards. In the circumstances, when will the Government give the funding that the Royal Surrey needs to maintain the high standards that it has achieved in the past?

Mr. Denham

The truth is that the health authority has received 2.9 per cent. in real growth this year, and more than £800,000 extra will be available from the modernisation fund to tackle waiting lists. The Royal Surrey hospital has met and will meet its waiting list targets, and it will treat more patients than ever next year.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that 58 per cent. of junior doctors at the Royal Surrey hospital are working more hours than are specified under the new deal?

Mr. Denham

The Government have made progress in implementing the new deal by improving the conditions for rest periods. We will continue to make progress, working with the junior doctors.

Miss Widdecombe

How does the hon. Gentleman match that statement with the national figures, which show that whereas only 16 per cent. of junior doctors were working beyond the 56-hour limit when we left office, some 28 per cent. are now working beyond that limit?

Mr. Denham

Because, as the right hon. Lady knows, the figures would show continued progress by the Government if they were seen on a comparable basis. We agreed with the junior doctors that there should be more stringent criteria for their rest periods, as that was in their interests and those of patients. Everyone accepted that bringing in the changes in December would produce a rise in the headline figures for non-compliance with the new deal. However, all the evidence suggests that the actual number of hours worked by junior doctors has not increased.

Miss Widdecombe

The figures for the Royal Surrey hospital fly in the face of what the hon. Gentleman has just said. At 31 March 1998, all 128 posts at the Royal Surrey hospital were declared to be compliant. By 30 September 1998—before the new monitoring criteria were imposed—12 per cent. of posts were not compliant with the hours in the new deal. That shows that the trend of increasing non-compliance started before the hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State changed the criteria. When will we see the national figures which, mysteriously, are available, but have not been published?

Mr. Denham

The answer is the one that I have already given. The reason for the increase in the headline figure for non-compliance is the change in the definitions in the new deal. However, progress continues to be made, and there is no evidence that junior doctors are working longer hours. So far as any individual hospital is concerned, it is clearly the responsibility of the hospital management to work towards compliance with the new deal. One of the reasons why we are continuing to fund the regional task forces is to work with that minority of hospitals which have a minority of junior doctor places that are not compliant with the new deal.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (South—West Surrey)

In my 15 years as a local Member of Parliament, there has not been a more severe situation at the Royal Surrey hospital. I would like to help the hon. Gentleman to help the hospital to make difficult decisions, but the options that it is now considering are not fair to patients. The area has one of the highest costs of living, high expectations and massive demand. The combination of the hon. Gentleman's decisions on health funding—among the lowest in the country—and the vindictive social services settlement means that the hospital cannot maintain the quality of service that is necessary. Will he personally look at the health and social services figures together?

Mr. Denham

It is an inescapable fact that the health service in the area has to deal with the deficit of about £18 million built up over two years under the previous Administration. Viewed nationally, the hospital is not typical. There has been considerable progress since we came to office in reducing the number of NHS trusts in serious financial difficulties.

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