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Hospitals (Industrial Action)

Volume 961: debated on Wednesday 31 January 1979

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I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the threat to the welfare of hospital patients presented by the current industrial action within the National Health Service."
I submit to the House that there could be nothing more specific and important than the threat to human life that this dispute poses. We know that there is such a threat. We have the evidence of the Secretary of State himself, who said so only yesterday. Indeed, we know that there are hundreds of hospitals throughout the country which are, in effect, in a state of siege. We also know—I managed to get this information just over an hour ago—that the latest attempt by the Secretary of State to intervene in one of these disputes ended after eight minutes.

This would seem, therefore, to be a matter that should be debated in the House. Irrespective of the merits of the case of the lower-paid, the House has an overriding responsibility for the proper functioning of the National Health Service. It is a matter that we must debate. I believe that those outside the House who are suffering, and the many others who are worrying because they have relatives or friends in hospital, will neither understand nor forgive us if we do not turn our attention at an early opportunity to a discussion of this grave and important matter.

The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) gave me notice this morning that he would seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believed should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the threat to the welfare of hospital patients presented by the current industrial action within the National Health Service."
I listened with concern to the hon. Gentleman. The House knows the limitation of my powers. I am aware of the facts that the hon. Gentleman raised in his application but I cannot today submit his application to the House.

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the serious situation which has arisen because of the lightning strike of domestic workers affecting two hospitals in the Chelsea constituency, as well as others in central London."
I am conscious that this is not a new issue. Indeed, eloquently but unsuccessfully my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack) has already sought to move the Adjournment on a related matter.

I intrude briefly on the time of the House because this morning there was an important development when members of the National Union of Public Employees had a mass meeting at St. Stephen's hospital, in my constituency, and decided to call out all their members in the Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea districts. This is bound to have the most profound effect on the health and welfare of patients in the two major hospitals in my constituency, St. Mary Abbots and St. Stephen's.

The origins of this House lie in the struggle for the rights of the individual. Today not just the rights of individuals but their health and their very lives are being threatened by the action of this union. I submit that it is Parliament's duty to discuss this matter as soon as possible.

When the most vulnerable members of our community are being used as a lever in the pursuit of a claim, it is Parliament's job to get to grips with it. We have had the appeal of the medical profession to the Prime Minister. We have had the Secretary of State acknowledging the seriousness of the matter. We have had the NUPE branch leader, Mr. Morris, acknowledging the dangers of cross-infection in the wards that will be affected by his members' action. It is essential that Parliament should do something about this.

We have become accustomed to dustbins not being collected and to the dead not being buried, but the sick always have a special claim upon a decent society. There is a very compelling reason for our discussing the matter in Parliament and trying to give a lead back towards that sense of common fellowship of which the Secretary of State for the Environment spoke earlier.

The hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) gave me notice this morning that he would seek leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believed should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the serious situation which has arisen because of the lightning strike of domestic workers affecting two hospitals in the Chelsea constituency, as well as others in central London."
I listened to the hon. Gentleman with equal concern to that with which I listened earlier to his hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack). I have indicated to the House that I am well aware of the serious issues that have been raised. The House has instructed me not to give reasons for my decision. I regret that I cannot this day submit the hon. Gentleman's application, to the House.

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the effect of industrial action on the hospital service in the Newcastle upon Tyne area."
I am aware that my two hon. Friends who preceded me in their efforts to obtain an Adjournment debate have raised the general state of the suffering of patients in hospitals throughout the country. I nevertheless believe that the escalation of strike action has now brought the hospital service in the Newcastle region to a state of near chaos.

Laundry service at the general hospital is now reduced to below emergency requirements. The large St. Nicholas psychiatric hospital, which requires 20,000 pieces of laundry to be processed each week, is today, I am given to understand, without any clean laundry at all. The Royal Victoria infirmary, where there is a laundry overtime ban, is not meeting emergency requirements. In addition, the ambulance service is dealing with emergencies only. This means that there are no discharges from the hospitals in the Newcastle area, and this further exacerbates the position.

I hope that what I have said amply illustrates the specific and important nature of my request. I believe that the urgency can best be illustrated by the enormous difficulty which those in the hospital services are having in dealing not only with official union action but in having to deal with innumerable individual actions. It is making their task very difficult indeed. This is a state of crisis in our Newcastle hospital services that is. I believe, without parallel in our history.

The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Sir W. Elliott) gave notice this morning that he would seek to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believed should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the effect of industrial action on the hospital service in the Newcastle upon Tyne area."
I listened to the serious statement made by the hon. Gentleman. He will have heard my earlier replies to his hon. Friend, and while I in no way seek to minimise the importance of what the hon. Gentleman has said I have to rule that I cannot this day submit his application to the House.

Later

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With reference to the points raised under Standing Order No. 9 by my hon. Friends relating to hospitals, which you very kindly agreed to consider very seriously—the House is deeply indebted to you for that—I do hope that you will recognise that there are many others of us with similar problems who have not raised them under Standing Order No. 9. We all have similar crises developing, and I hope that you will bear that in mind when coming to your decision.

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I am well aware that probably every hon. Member with a hospital in his constituency could rise in his place and make a similar application.