HL Deb 21 March 1984 vol 449 cc1225-7

2.56 p.m.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

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 what progress has been made in reducing excessive hours worked by some junior doctors.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the most arduous rotas which required junior hospital doctors to be on duty for 105 hours a week or more have been banned. In addition health authorities have managed to reduce the number of juniors contracted for more than 84 hours a week from 5,000 to 4,000, with prospects for a further reduction. Of these 4,000 only about half are on rotas which are likely to require significant amounts of work when on-call. Overall less than 10 per cent. of junior hospital doctors are now on rotas which would generally be considered hard-pressed. This is a significant improvement.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very satisfactory Answer and ask him whether he will be able to continue this encouraging improvement, as this is very important indeed?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the Department of Health and Social Security has issued guidance setting a one in three rota which equates roughly to 84 hours a week as the target maximum commitment for the future. Authorities will be pursuing this as part of the normal management process.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, can the Minister say whether that is accepted by the junior hospital doctors? Surely a figure of 80 hours a week is their objective, and does he not agree that that would normally equate to serving no more than one in four nights a week on duty?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the average junior is contracted for almost 90 hours a week, but works about 55. The remainder of the time is quite often spent at home on standby. Many junior doctors have said that the really tiring element is not the number of hours they work but the disruption caused by calls in the middle of the night. We believe that what we have said is consistent.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, would not the hours that the noble Lord has quoted be further reduced if there were fewer unemployed doctors?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I have already, on numerous occasions, answered questions dealing with the unemployment of doctors. The statistics which have been displayed have not been verified by the department.

Lord Prys-Davies

My Lords, at the end of January it was announced that there were insufficient pre-training posts for doctors who had been successful in their final examinations and had qualified. Will the Minister confirm that that is unprecedented in the history of the NHS? Will he also assure the House that all medical students who qualify in June next will receive a job?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I obviously cannot commit anybody as to whether doctors qualifying in June will find jobs, but there is no evidence to suggest that there is unemployment in the way that I think lies behind the noble Lord's question.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, will the noble Lord the Minister not agree that this distressing question of excessive overtime on the one hand and threatened unemployment on the other that affects junior doctors is also now applicable to SENs, SRNs, state certified midwives and ward sisters? Would it not perhaps be a good thing if the Government were prepared to talk about these issues with representatives of the junior doctors via the British Medical Association and the Confederation of Health Service Employees?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, the Question on the Order Paper refers to doctors and not to the other staff the noble Lord refers to.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that the decision taken some time ago by the Secretary of State to increase the number of consultants' posts in the health service in order to alleviate the log jam for junior doctors, thereby enabling the younger doctors to get into the service for which they are trained, would have been helpful? Can he tell the House how many new consultants' posts have been created as a result of that decision?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am not able to give the figures which the noble Baroness asks for without notice. An increase in the posts for junior doctors would not necessarily be the answer to reducing hours, either.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, I ask the Minister whether the Government will try to encourage more junior doctors trained in British medical schools to work in our British spinal units? Is he aware that nearly all of them come from abroad and were trained in medical schools abroad?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, that question is not particularly relevant to the Question on the Order Paper.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, since the Government require that newly-qualified doctors must complete so many pre-registration posts before they are finally registered, do the Government not have a clear obligation to see that there are enough pre-registration posts available for newly qualified doctors?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I am sure that that point will be borne in mind by my right honourable friend.

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