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Clause 9—(Special Provision As To Medical And General Practitioners)

Volume 437: debated on Wednesday 7 May 1947

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Motion made, and Question proposed: "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

I had two Amendments down on this Clause but I understand it would be convenient to the Committee if I made these short points now. The only reason why the Amendments were put down was to get clarification from the Government about the economic use of doctors and dentists in the Forces, and I merely want to ask the Government what is their intention so far as it concerns whole-time service. We cannot afford to waste doctors. It is conceivable that there will be more than the number required by the Forces at any given time. Is it the intention of the Government to reduce the period of service while keeping doctors and dentists in the Forces not required for the needs of the Forces, or is there some other arrangement?

For part-time service I can quite see the necessity for calling up doctors and dentists for annual camps, but I cannot see the reason for calling them up to do an hourly period here and an hourly period there, even perhaps for short week-end camps. It would be very useful if we could have that clarification from the Government at this stage.

This is a very important Clause, because it is the only Clause dealing with doctors and dentists, who have a special place in this Bill. I want to reinforce what the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Byers), said, because taking into consideration the number of doctors who qualify each year—and the average over the last 10 years has been just over 3,000—there will be far more doctors than are required for the Services. Of those 3,000 doctors, some are women, others may be too old for service when they qualify, and others may be unfit for service; but there will still be 1,500 doctors fit to serve in the Services, and if every one of those is called up an enormous force will be needed to occupy them. In general practice there is one doctor for every 3,500 people. If that is reduced on a liberal allocation in the Services to one doctor for every 1,000 recruits although they are fitter individuals than the mass of children and women and the general public—a force of 1,500,000 will be required to occupy the 1,500 doctors.

The problem with regard to dentists is the very opposite. An average of 400 dentists have qualified each year over the last 10 years. Taking into consideration the fact that some are women, some are not fit for Service, and some are too old, there will still be a good many dentists able to be called up each year. What is to be done with the doctors? Is the suggestion of the hon. Member for North Dorset to be accepted, and are they to be called up for a shorter period; or is some other employment to be found for them, such as service in the Colonial Service, service in the National Health Service scheme in the unattractive areas of the country which are said to be without doctors? The thing to be avoided is having Service doctors unemployed, or partially employed, whilst there are at the same time overworked doctors in general practice.

There is one other point not included in the Clause on which I should like an assurance. I hope an assurance can be given that individuals whose vocation is to be medicine or dentistry, will have an opportunity, if they wish, to perform their national service before qualifying as a doctor or dentist. At the present moment there is a waiting period before getting into a medical school or dental school, and there would be a golden opportunity for some students to perform their national service before qualifying. On the other hand, I am certain that the majority of those who are entering medicine or dentistry will wish to perform their national service after they have qualified, because they will then have an opportunity of performing their service in a commissioned rank and in their vocation, rather than in the ranks and in combatant service. I should like that opportunity kept open for all those who are entering the medical or dental professions.

This Clause deals with specialists. It makes it possible for those who intend to specialise not be called up until the. age of 30. I believe that everybody who intends to specialise in medicine will put off their call-up until the very last day, until they have their specialist qualification. Therefore, again there will be in the Services many more specialists than are required. What is to be done to coordinate the demand in the Services for specialists with the large number that will be available? Is it intended, there again, as has been suggested with the general practitioners, to cut down the length of period they need serve? How is it intended to deal with this difficult problem? There are three times as many doctors as dentists, and I impress upon the Committee that we cannot afford to have doctors unemployed in the Forces whilst their fellow doctors are overworked in general practice.

8.0 a.m.

We do not want to denude the country of doctors by taking them into the Forces simply because we have the right to do that. There is a Medical Priority Committee, over which my hon. Friend the Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest) is Chairman, and we shall consult them as to the best way of making the best use of the medical services that are available. It may be best in some localities if the doctors have to serve for a shorter period, or are exempt altogether. I am not sure that it would not be best to say, "There are 1,000 doctors, but we want only 500." As regards dentists, we shall deal with the situation affecting them as it comes along, which will not be before early in 1949. We shall do the same with the specialists, because we do not want to take a man into the Forces just because he is a specialist. We shall want to take in the kind of specialist that the Forces arc looking for.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.