HL Deb 06 October 2003 vol 653 cc19-21

3.39 p.m.

Lord Clement-Jones

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will establish an independent inquiry into the circumstances of the closure and relocation of the London Foot Hospital of Podiatric Medicine, in particular the role played by the North East London Workforce Development Confederation and the Camden Primary Care Trust.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner)

My Lords, the decision to move the contract for podiatric education from the London Foot Hospital and University College London was made for sound educational reasons. The changes will lead to educational improvement, more and better prepared students and better podiatry services for the people of London. The Government believe that there is nothing to be gained from an independent inquiry.

Lord Clement-Jones

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but what level of incompetence is required before an inquiry is granted? The new course costs more per head than that bid for by University College, London. It is unaccredited, so students cannot practise after qualification. Nearly all the staff of the old hospital are leaving. The number of students applying is massively down. On top of that, Camden PCT is making a profit of £2 million to £3 million out of the property, which otherwise would have been available for the London Foot Hospital. Will the Minister reconsider?

Lord Warner

My Lords, the answer is, "No". The position that the noble Lord describes is considerably different from the information available to me. The previous course at UCL and the London Foot Hospital had unacceptably high student attrition rates—40 per cent from the 1999 student cohort. The University of East London, which will run the training in future, is using a proven curriculum that has been delivered at the University of Brighton. Increased student numbers are confidently expected, and we expect a larger output of trained podiatrists.

Baroness Noakes

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister is concerned about the impact of the events referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, on the provision of chiropody and podiatry services. He will be aware that the postcode lottery is alive and well so far as concerns those services. Does he have anything to offer by way of hope to the hundreds of thousands of people who cannot get that treatment at the moment?

Lord Warner

My Lords, that is a little wide of the Question, but I can say in relation to Camden, quoting the chief executive of Camden Primary Care Trust: At no time will there be a loss or decrease to podiatry services for the population of Camden". Camden has written to all the other strategic health authorities and PCTs to ensure that non-Camden residents have access to services.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I must declare an interest in the issue, having been a grateful patient of the London Foot Hospital in its previous incarnation, something that has enabled me to walk, if not to wear fashionable shoes. May I press my noble friend a little on a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, about the break-up of the teaching team at the London Foot Hospital? As I understand it, several members of the team have already left and others have refused to accept new contracts. That is bound to undermine the quality of the service offered and, again as I understand it, follows a rather unhappy period of lack of consultation between UCL and the staff concerned.

Lord Warner

My Lords, many of the staff have transferred to the University of East London. Six members of staff at UCL have decided not to accept the terms under the arrangements on transfer of undertakings, and have chosen to go their own way. I remind the noble Baroness and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, that expenditure on podiatry education has increased from £1.3 million in 1998–99 to a forecast £9.4 million in 2003, a sevenfold increase in expenditure.

Lord Quirk

My Lords, I also declare some interest, in my case as a fellow of UCL. Has not the sorry tale outlined in the supplementary question resulted in a great deal of student upset and disillusionment; the break-up of a highly talented team of clinical teachers, as was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay; and a serious demeaning of the place of podiatry in the student body and in higher education? Is not the root cause of this whole problem the unwillingness of our health authorities to locate podiatry any longer in institutions of the Russell group calibre?

Lord Warner

My Lords, there is a complex background to the problem. What shines out is that the commissioners for services for education have taken a grip on a situation in which large numbers of students failed to complete their courses, and have taken robust action to improve the education provision without any diminution of services.