HL Deb 20 July 1983 vol 443 cc1153-4

2.44 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether it is difficult to recruit medical doctors to the armed forces; and, if so, what steps they are taking to improve the situation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Lord Trefgarne)

No. my Lords. Officer recruitment to the medical branches is good. In 1982–83 both the Royal Navy and the Army achieved their targets, and the Royal Air Force recruited 95 per cent. of its medical officer target. We do not anticipate serious difficulties in meeting our targets for this year.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that reply, may I ask him whether he is aware that the Navy are short of 12 doctors at the present time, the Army are short of 72 and the RAF 27? Is he further aware that after the doctors have given 16 years' service they get a pension, and the problem could be retaining experienced doctors in the Services? Would he not agree with me that it is important that service personnel, their families and the public—the National Health Service patients whom they serve—get as good a medical service as possible?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right, more or less, in the numbers to which she referred. However, perhaps it is worthwhile getting this matter into perspective. The percentage shortfall is only 4, 12 and 7 respectively. We are for the moment having no difficulty in making up this shortfall by using civilian doctors and others.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, is it not true that a vast number of doctors are unemployed? In these circumstances, is it not advisable to make some arrangements with the armed forces so that the unemployed doctors, who are anxious to carry on with their profession, should be made available to the armed forces?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords. it is always open to such doctors to volunteer for service in the armed forces.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, while there arc always some conditions and constraints attached to being within the organisation and discipline of the armed forces, is it not true that there are nonetheless considerable attractions for medical officers? Will the Government extend more widely information about the opportunities which are available for those who possess the necessary qualifications?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, as I was saying, we are really having no difficulty in meeting our recruitment targets in this area, and any doctor who is presently unemployed and wants to serve in the armed forces is of course able to volunteer. But I would not want to encourage a large increase in the number of applicants for places in the armed services which we could not meet.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend what percentage of the doctors in each of the services are women?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords. I am ashamed to say that I do not have that answer in front of me; but I will find out and I will write to my noble friend.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us whether it is still the custom on the part of Army doctors to prescribe No. 9s for whatever complaint?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I fancy that a wider range of cures is now available.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, may I ask one more question? Does the Minister think that it might be possible to have closer links with the National Health Service and perhaps some joint funding in areas where there are small populations near to a military hospital?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, there are already some links between military hospitals and the local populations, and between military units and National Health Service hospitals. However, the essential difference between civilian and service doctors is that service doctors must be ready to serve abroad—sometimes at very short notice.