HC Deb 06 March 1991 vol 187 cc183-4W
Mr. David Nicholson

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the outcome of the review of the veterinary investigation service.

Mr. Gummer

I set up a review team, led by Dr. P. S. Dawson, the assistant chief veterinary officer with responsibility for the veterinary investigation service (VIS), to examine ways of improving the quality, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the services provided by the VI centres. My concern was to ensure that the VIS is organised and equipped to provide the highest quality of diagnostic, advisory and consultancy services to Government and to the livestock industry generally.

I have now received the report of the review team and I have accepted its main conclusions.

The report recommends that the work of the VI service should be concentrated on a smaller number of centres where the facilities available and the level of expertise should be upgraded. The recommendation is that we should move from the present structure of 19 centres in England and Wales to one based on 13 centres. The centres at Wye, Truro, Bangor and Lincoln will, therefore, be closed. The VIS quality control unit at the Lincoln VIC will be relocated in new purpose-built facilities at another centre.

The statutory and policy work carried out at the centres to be closed will be transferred to one of the remaining centres. The work from Wye will go to the Winchester VIC, that from Truro to the Starcross VIC, that from Bangor to the Aberystwyth VIC and the Lincoln work to Sutton Bonington VIC. Private veterinary surgeons will be asked to submit samples for examination to these alternative centres.

The Cambridge and Norwich centres, both of which are inadequate for present-day needs, will close and their work will be amalgamated at a new purpose-built centre near Bury St. Edmonds. The existing centre at Worcester, which again is unsatisfactory, will be relocated at another new purpose-built centre in Warwickshire. This relocation and the enhancement of the facilities at the Winchester VIC will enable the Reading VIC to be closed.

The closures at Wye, Truro, Bangor and Lincoln will go ahead as soon as possible. The other changes, including the construction of the new centres at Bury St. Edmonds and in Warwickshire, will be completed over the next three to four years.

A programme of investment in new capital equipment and up-to-date technology is being carried forward to enable the VIS to achieve the highest quality standards as laid down in "The Principles of Good Laboratory Practice". Staffing levels will be increased in some centres to enable additional workloads to be handled. The reorganisation will involve the loss of some posts. Everything possible will be done to help staff find alternative jobs and to keep redundancies to a minimum.

I believe that the implementation of these recommendations from the review team will result in significant improvements in the quality, efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the VI service. This is important if we are to have a VI service which is well equipped to meet our national needs over the years ahead.

I am placing a copy of the findings of the review team in the Library of the House.