asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether she is satisfied that each NHS region is adequately staffed by consultants in each of the specialities.
No, Sir, I am not satisfied, and this is one reason why I have proposed to the medical profession a new system of career structure supplements to replace the present system of distinction awards, so as to improve staffing ratios in some parts of the country and some specialities and to reward consultants who accept a very heavy workload and make a major contribution to the health service.
Is not this at the heart of the present dispute with the consultants? A deplorable situation has arisen in which resources for the scarce expertise of consultants are badly distributed by specialities and regions because of the extent to which consultants have exercised discretion over merit awards. Will my right hon. Friend persist in ensuring that the community gets full value for money in this respect?
I certainly agree that a revision of the merit award system, which at present does not have the effect of encouraging people to move into areas and specialities where they are needed, is extremely important, and I am pursuing it.
Does the Secretary of State realise how welcome is her belated decision to reopen consultations with the hospital consultants? Does she agree that, to regain some of the medical profession's confidence in her, it is desirable that the discussions should be wide-ranging and comprehensive and should cover all the points on which the consultants feel that they are in discord with her?
I have made it clear all along that I am willing to resume full and detailed negotiations with the consultants as soon as their damaging sanctions are lifted. I have also made it clear that I am willing at any time for discussions to take place to clarify misunderstandings. Therefore, as soon as the BMA wrote and asked for a meeting to clarify certain interpretations of the existing contract—not a new one—I said at once that I should be happy for that meeting to take place.