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Family Practitioner Committees

Volume 957: debated on Tuesday 7 November 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will now take action to ensure the right of attendance by representatives of all community health councils to their respective family practitioner committees in view of the hostility expressed at the yearly conference of family practitioner committees, and the fact that only 50 per cent. had heeded his request for admission.

In addressing the closing session, my right hon. Friend made very clear his view that all family practitioner committees should invite observers from community health councils to the non-confidential part of their meetings. My right hon. Friend urged most strongly those committees that had not done so to think again. I hope they will respond. If not, we shall have to consider what further action should be taken to achieve our objectives.

Although most of us have been concentrating on the mess-up in the Health Service caused by the Conservative reorganisation, has it not been even more disastrous for the family doctors? As the family doctor is becoming more and more isolated both from the profession and from his patient, is it not vital that the Minister should proceed with the second point that he made in his answer and take action to get the community health councils well and truly involved with family doctors?

I am sure that family practitioners would benefit from closer involvement with representatives of the community. My right hon. Friend and I still hope that we can make progress on a voluntary basis so that local arrangements are made, rather than resort to compulsion. But we must ensure that, in the end, the family practitioner committees have community health council observers present at their non-confidential proceedings.

Is the Minister aware that the more we can develop the community hospital—what used to be called the cottage hospital—the closer can be the links between the general practioner and the hospital service? That, surely, is what reorganisation was all about.

I am sure that that is true, but it will take some time. In the meantime, community health councils wish to be more closely involved with the work of family practitioner committees.

Will my right hon. Friend give the House a clearer idea of how long he will allow the family practitioner committees to comply with his request and the repeated requests of other Ministers? Is he aware that the family practitioner committee in Staffordshire has repeatedly refused to allow in observers from the South-East Staffordshire community health council, that much the same applies throughout the country, despite repeated advice from his Department, and that he should put a time limit on this?

I note the suggestion made by my hon. Friend, and I have in fact discussed the problem of the Staffordshire community health council and the family practitioner committee with representatives of the community health council. I am afraid that I cannot impose a time limit. Progress depends upon how rapidly family practitioner committees respond to our initiative.