HL Deb 13 March 1975 vol 358 cc400-3

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, 1 beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what regulations govern the use in hospitals of National Health Service equipment and facilities in the treatment of private patients.


My Lords, under the provisions of Sections 1 and 2 of the Health Services and Public Health Act 1968, facilities, including equipment, may be made available as required for the treatment in authorised National Health Service hospitals of private patients who have undertaken to pay hospital charges.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that Answer, may I ask him whether he is aware that in certain hospitals action is being taken unilaterally to change that state of affairs under the threat of industrial action? Can the noble Lord say whether Her Majesty's Government have made any plans to dissuade people from taking such action in advance of the Parliamentary process?


My Lords, in reply to the noble Lord, may I say that I hope I shall not be pressed beyond saying that we are aware of the situation and that we are endeavouring to do something about it.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the situation is getting worse almost each day? One hears of patients going into hospital and being dictated to by shop stewards about how and where they should have their treatment. Will the noble Lord not agree that this is an utterly disgraceful state of affairs in the National Health Service?


My Lords, I do not think the situation is as widespread as the noble Lord would lead the House to believe. This is happening in a few places, but we are aware of it and are trying to do something about it. In some respects we have succeeded.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether it is not an injustice that private consultants are using National Health Service equipment for their own private practice?


My Lords, whether or not it is an injustice, the fact remains that since 1948 there has been an arrangement whereby consultants who are doing the maximum amount of parttime work are permitted to use National Health Service facilities. That has been the position for a good many years and that is the position at the present moment.


My Lords, would it be unreasonable to ask the Minister to give the House a rather stronger assurance than, "We are trying to do something about it", since this subject is one upon which human life depends? Whether people are National Health Service patients or private patients, they have all paid their taxes to keep the National Health Service going. If their lives are endangered by an industrial dispute, surely it is up to the Government here and now to say that they deplore such a position.

Several Noble Lords: Hear, hear!


My Lords, it is all very well for noble Lords to say, "Hear, hear." As noble Lords know, this is a very delicate matter. There are two sides to the question and two points of view, and we shall not improve the position by making wild and, in some respects, extravagant statements.


My Lords, quite apart from that, is the noble Lord not able to agree to this? Where Parliament has said that the Government shall have the right to say whether or not certain facilities should be available for the treatment of the sick, it is for the Government, having said it, to see that those facilities are made available.


My Lords, I have already said that we are aware of the position and that we are trying to do something about it. I do not want to develop the argument, but may I remind noble Lords opposite that consultants, too, have withdrawn their labour and are on strike.


My Lords, far be it from me to condone the action of the unofficial strikers, but would the noble Lord agree in principle that it would be far better if those who wished to be treated privately should be treated right outside the National Health Service, so that then there could not be any argument about the expenditure on facilities for the benefit of the public being diverted to private ends?


My Lords, this is part of the great debate which is still continuing.


My Lords, is my noble friend able to say how far private hospitals are meeting this need?


My Lords, I think I can say that, so far as tests are concerned, it has always been an " open access " policy that hospitals should meet this kind of need. In some areas where the demands for tests from the private sector to be undertaken are very great, the hospital has an arrangement whereby certain charges are made. So far as beds are concerned, as noble Lords will know not every National Health Service hospital has private beds. The Secretary of State gives authority to certain hospitals to have up to a certain number of private beds. Generally speaking, however, at the present moment there is this "open access" policy, except where the demand on a particular hospital from the private sector is so great, that, by arrangement, charges are made for various tests.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I have no intention of exacerbating what is, I agree, an extremely delicate and difficult position? Will he also accept that my only reason for asking this Question was concern that in certain hospitals medical decisions appear to be in process of being taken by people who have no medical training? Will he further accept that, for my part I am satisfied with the Answer he has given and I hope that the Government will succeed in what they are attempting to do.