HL Deb 14 December 1998 vol 595 cc129-30WA
Lord Stone of Blackheath

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have for the Defence Medical Services. [HL308]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Gilbert)

The Strategic Defence Review, SDR, acknowledged the importance of medical support for defence and identified a number of shortfalls, both in peacetime care and in operational medical support. As a result of the SDR, we announced plans for significant investment in additional medical personnel and equipment of about £140 million over the next four years.

Although the SDR provided funding for substantial improvements to our medical capabilities, this did not by itself solve all the immediate problems. The Defence Medical Services, DMS, organisation continues to suffer from a number of interrelated difficulties which are hindering it in fulfilling its objectives and which are also affecting morale. In particular, serious staffing shortages, combined with a high level of operational deployment, have led to increased turbulence for DMS staff and their families. There is also serious concern about the continued viability of the Royal Hospital, Haslar.

We therefore set work in hand in July with the aim of producing a strategy for the resolution of these problems and to give DMS personnel a clear and positive vision of the future. We are today publishing a summary of our findings in a booklet The Defence Medical ServicesA Strategy for the Future, copies of which will be placed in the Library of the House.

The key proposals include: a major recruiting campaign, properly co-ordinated and targeted, aimed at both new entry Regulars and Reserves, and at a small number of direct entry ready-trained personnel to fill the most pressing shortfalls. Tackling a range of key personnel issues to address the main problems felt by people in the DMS, including identifying the causes of overstretch and more effective ways of reducing it, harmonising different conditions of service within the DMS, and addressing concerns about the need to maintain military standards and ethos while working in NHS hospitals. Restructured secondary care arrangements, including a new centre for defence medicine to act as a focal point for the DMS and a centre of excellence for training and research, the location of which will be decided after further study. A new Ministry of Defence hospital unit is to be established in the Portsmouth area. The Royal Hospital, Haslar, will close once these new arrangements are in place and once a clearer remit has been established for the Defence Secondary Care Agency to co-ordinate treatment for service personnel. A reorganisation of the DMS to improve management and financial co-ordination, including the creation of a new Chief of Staff post on the Surgeon General's staff to co-ordinate planning, personnel management, training, finance and the implementation of change. Developing closer relations with the NHS, including NHS representation on the two key DMS management boards, and improved arrangements at local level.

These proposals will have a significant impact both within the DMS and outside defence, particularly in the Portsmouth area. We will immediately begin a period of consultation on our proposals and will listen closely to the views of, among others, the local community around Gosport and the trade unions that represent our civilian staff. We will be working closely with the National Health Service in taking our proposals forward.

Together the proposals represent for the DMS a new strategy which addresses the very difficult problems being experienced at the moment and which looks ahead to the future. We value the DMS, and we plan to rebuild it to meet the needs of our Armed Forces both on operations and in peacetime. It will provide a more attractive and rewarding career, not only for those already serving, but also for those thinking of joining. Above all, it will be a service in which all concerned can have confidence for the future.