HC Deb 21 November 2000 vol 357 cc166-7
8. Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)

What plans he has to reform the process of regulation of the medical profession. [137643]

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Alan Milburn)

The NHS plan restated the Government's resolve that the regulation of the clinical professions, including the medical profession, needs to be strengthened and made more accountable.

Mr. Gardiner

Does my right hon. Friend understand the anguish of my constituents Mr. and Mrs. Khatib, whose daughter Wassan died earlier this year after being attended by a doctor whom the General Medical Council had already been investigating for gross misconduct for 16 months and who had previously received a severe admonishment from the GMC after an investigation that had lasted 14 months? In all, four and a half years were spent investigating a doctor for gross misconduct. The doctor attended my constituent, who subsequently died, and it was only two months after that that the GMC acted to strike him off. Is it not a totally unacceptable state for the health service to be in when a regulatory body does not take timely and effective action against incompetent and malpractising doctors?

Mr. Milburn

The case that my hon. Friend has outlined is shocking. I am sure that the whole House would want to join me in passing our condolences to the family. Such cases clearly raise important issues about professional self-regulation. I have always made it clear that I believe in professional self-regulation in principle, but it has to prove its worth. Regulatory bodies must grasp some nettles that should have been grasped many years ago and, in particular, they must make their procedures much more transparent and faster. The case that my hon. Friend has raised shows that that is so.

My hon. Friend knows that the General Medical Council is considering its procedures, and the Government and Parliament will need to take their own view on whether the GMC's proposals match our aspirations for a modernised system of professional self-regulation that is transparent and faster and has greater patient and public representation. Above all, it should be accountable to those whom the medical profession and the NHS serve.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex)

Although we are all grateful for the skills of most NHS consultants, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the power of the royal colleges is used most arbitrarily? I welcome some of his initiatives on that. Is he aware that in my constituency, the royal colleges are driving the reform of the Princess Royal hospital by threatening to remove the full accident and emergency service? Does he agree that the health service should be run for the convenience of the patients, not of the consultants, and will he take on board my constituents' grave concern about such high-handed behaviour by the royal colleges?

Mr. Milburn

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I think that he is aware from the NHS plan proposals that we published in July that we need to get to grips with the issue. We need to balance two, sometimes competing, factors—the training needs of doctors and the service needs of patients. We cannot have a situation in which the training tail sometimes wags the service dog. There has to be change. Our proposals for a medical education standards board, which I hope the Conservatives will support, will provide a forum in which royal colleges, the Department of Health and representatives of patients' interests can get around a table to sort out how best we can ensure that the NHS provides both adequate training for its junior doctors and high quality locally accessible services for patients.