§ 5. Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth)
If he will make a statement about the reform of consultant contracts. 
§ The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton)
Following the ballot of British Medical Association members in October, we are carefully considering the options in relation to the best way forward and will make an announcement shortly.
§ Mr. Edwards
May I urge my right hon. Friend to resist and overcome the opposition of consultants to the reform of their contracts? Constituents who need an orthopaedic operation feel deeply frustrated when they find out that they could have it done in the next couple of weeks by the same surgeon at the same hospital. The situation is so intolerable at the Royal Gwent hospital where my constituents go that the Minister for Health and Social Services in the National Assembly for Wales, Jane Hutt, has set up an inquiry. Will my right hon. Friend do everything in his power to ensure that those consultants who are dedicated to working full time for the national health service are rewarded for that? We should not have a two-tier system.
§ Mr. Hutton
I agree strongly with hon. Friend. It is important to make it clear that no one has a veto on reform in the national health service. It is our job to find the best way to proceed with the reforms that we wanted to make. Our objective, however, is clear and it remains the same—to better reward NHS consultants who do the most for NHS patients. As I said, we will be making an announcement shortly about the way forward.
On my hon. Friend's specific point about private practice, he will remember from the agreement that we negotiated with the BMA last year that we proposed a way forward for dealing with the perceived conflict between NHS practice and private practice. The need for clarity around the relationship between private practice and NHS practice remains the same, and we will be saying something about this in the near future.
§ Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)
The hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) has raised an important point. While we have to give full credit to the overwhelming majority of consultants for their skill, dedication and commitment, is it not important that any contract should encourage a consultant to carry out as many operations as possible within the national health service in accordance with safety, hygiene and all other considerations that are important when using theatres? Will the Minister give me an assurance that that objective will lie behind any decision that the Government take?
§ Mr. John Baron (Billericay)
Dr. Paul Miller, the new BMA consultant negotiator, has today called for a resumption of national contract talks, saying that the consultantsare becoming increasingly frustrated at the slow pace of change…The Government is quick to claim credit for reductions in the longest patient waits but slower to acknowledge that the long waits have simply moved further down the system, with more patients waiting between six and 12 months for treatment.537 How can the Government hope to gain the trust of the consultants when they are responsible for this sort of systemic distortion?
§ Mr. Hutton
I entirely reject the hon. Gentleman's latter point. It is no coincidence that waiting times are falling across the national health service, because we have set clear national standards for the first time. We have pursued those with vigour and energy, and patients have been the beneficiaries.
On the hon. Gentleman's first point, of course the doors of the Department of Health remain open to the BMA, and we look forward to the discussions to which he has referred.
§ Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)
I have in front of me a letter from a consultant who says that he voted in favour of the reforms. He goes on to explain that as specialists in one of the smaller trusts, he and his colleagues are becoming increasingly frustrated with our region's attempt to rejuggle the management of some of the smaller trusts. As we need to build on the trust of good consultants such as my constituent, will my right hon. Friend look closely at what the north-west region is doing in terms of mergers of small specialist trusts, which are the jewels in the crown of the local service?
§ Mr. Hutton
Yes, I certainly agree with my hon. Friend; He is more than welcome to discuss any detailed concerns or issues with me.