HC Deb 26 November 2001 vol 375 cc666-7
11. Laura Moffatt (Crawley)

If he will make a statement on the recruitment of trained medical staff to the armed forces, with particular reference to the fields of orthopaedics and anaesthetics. [15084]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Dr. Lewis Moonie)

We have acknowledged that there are serious manpower shortages in a number of areas of the defence medical services, including orthopaedic surgeons and anaesthetists. To improve the situation in the short to medium term, we are seeking to recruit fully trained individuals, particularly in the critical shortage areas. A number of recruiting advertisements for general practitioners were placed in professional journals earlier this year, and advertisements for anaesthetists were placed somewhat later. The response rate has been promising, but it is too early to comment on the success of these initiatives.

Laura Moffatt

I am pleased that there are initiatives to assist the armed forces in recruiting the people that they need. Does my hon. Friend agree that the most important issue is the quality of the partnerships between the two organisations under pressure: the NHS staff and the medical services? Will he assure us that those partnerships are of high quality, that they are able to act flexibly, and that they are used often to ensure that they are put to good use in getting people into the services?

Dr. Moonie

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. Our hospital units have been up and running now for several years. It is fair to say that, in the initial stages, there were some difficulties in marrying the two cultures. I am happy to tell my hon. Friend that co-operation between the NHS hosts and their military counterparts in these units is now very good, and we are beginning to benefit from the synergy between the two organisations. This will be of particular benefit as we attempt to train the number of specialists that we shall need over the next few years, to meet the undoubted shortfalls that we have at present.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

It is not recruitment that is the problem, but retention of trained service personnel in the medical field. That situation has been made far worse—even disastrous—by the stated closure of the Royal Hospital, Haslar, in my constituency, leading to a shortfall of about 75 per cent. in some key faculties. Has the Minister seen a document called "Strategic Vision", an agreement between the Ministry of Defence and the national health service, which confirms the future of Haslar hospital for the next seven years? Does he accept that, if the hospital were to be confirmed on a permanent basis, it would help him to retain the medical staff that he needs?

Dr. Moonie

I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that Haslar can exist at present only as part of the medical services provided in Portsmouth. When the new hospital is built in six or seven years' time, with sufficient capacity for both military and civilian use, there will, I suspect, be very little further need for Haslar. I have made it plain to the hon. Gentleman on many occasions that we have an obligation to provide a case mix for specialists, and proper professional training for those at registrar level. Haslar does not provide that on its own, and can exist only as part of the integrated services in the Portsmouth region.

I have also mentioned to the hon. Gentleman before that we shall consider retaining whatever services we can in the south of the Gosport peninsula. I am aware of its isolation and of the need for some form of medical provision in future. That, of course, is not the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence, but I shall certainly do everything that I can to support that aim.