HL Deb 23 November 1995 vol 567 cc409-10

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will consider instituting an annual conference of all major organisations involved in the running of the National Health Service.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege)

My Lords, Ministers and officials have frequent contact on matters of mutual interest with all major organisations connected with the running of the National Health Service.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. Is she aware that the 30 organisations which comprise the National Health Service are grateful for her endeavours in making representations on their behalf as well as in smoothing the good organisation of the NHS? However, they are concerned about just one matter which the Minister might be prepared to consider. In a national emergency of some sort, and in the event of our country being in some distress, should there not be some arrangements to allow our National Health Service to play its vital part?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, elaborate systems are in place to deal with any national emergency. I do not think that a conference would be the way forward. It would take some time to arrange.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there are already innumerable conferences on a much smaller scale and that there is already a great deal of networking and liaison between all sectors of the health service? Does she further agree that the proposed annual conference, which I presume would be an enormous jamboree, would be nothing but a terrible waste of money? Does my noble friend have any idea what the cost might be, because most major conferences are really just showpieces and I am sure that we would all rather see that money spent on the National Health Service?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right and, being the chairman of one of the most famous of London's teaching hospitals, she has in-depth knowledge of the subject. I have no idea what the cost of such a conference would be. However, I am sure that it would be large and that that money would be better spent on patient care.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, but does the Minister not accept that further consultation with those who work in the health service might lead to the restoration of confidence within the health service, which in the past few months has been shown to be at a very low ebb among professionals? We have seen unprecedented unrest from the nursing and midwifery professions, and I have now read a survey which states that 70 per cent. of hospital consultants are seeking early retirement—all at a time when patients' complaints are rising by 30 per cent.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I totally refute that. I visit a lot of hospitals and community units and meet a great many staff. I was with the Royal College of Nursing last week, and met members of the medical profession and managers only last night. I do not accept what the noble Baroness says, although I do accept that there is pressure in the health service because of the demands on the system. However, I do not think that further formal consultation is necessary because it takes place the whole time informally. Indeed, the Secretary of State holds quarterly meetings with all the major organisations.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, perhaps I may advise the noble Baroness that I totally agree with her, although many people believe that there should be such a national conference. Indeed, noble Lords opposite ought to acknowledge that in a free country those who work in the National Health Service have every right to think that. I do not agree that there should be such a national conference and I congratulate the Minister on her response. However, in the event of a grave emergency we should look at how our NHS and its wonderful staff can play a great role.

Lord Butterfield

My Lords, although I agree with all that has been said, I wonder whether the Minister could give some thought to the possibility of holding an annual get-together at which different parts of the health service could boast, as it were, about their achievements in the past year. It would be very interesting to hear what different sectors of the health service felt had been their greatest achievement over the year. Does the Minister agree that that would be encouraging and would perhaps disseminate good ideas? I acknowledge, however, that it would cost money.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that our National Health Service is a great success. We are treating more people than ever before. We are seeing waiting times plummet. We are cutting bureaucracy and administration costs and, through the Patient's Charter, we are seeing an improvement in the quality of the services that are provided. We have a great deal, of which to be proud. I am also proud that people from all over the world beat a path to our door to see what we are doing and what we have achieved. There are other ways of disseminating information than through a national conference. I think that it is up to local health authorities and trusts to tell local people exactly what has been achieved. Indeed, many are doing that.

Back to