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National Health Service (Complaints Procedure)

Volume 13: debated on Monday 23 November 1981

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asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is satisfied that present measures are adequate to ensure that doctors acting as locums for general practitioners are subject to the National Health Service complaints procedure; and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. Friend has repeatedly indicated his commitment to taking action as soon as possible to ensure that the general practitioner in Scotland is responsible to his health board under his terms of service for the acts or omissions of a locum or a deputy not on the same board's medical list and for the acts or omissions of such a deputy's staff. This responsibility, which is already borne by general practitioners in England and Wales, would mean that complaints involving deputies not on the list could be considered by the service committee procedure through which alleged breaches in the terms of service of general practitioners are investigated.Until now successive Governments have been of the view that to place this responsibility upon the general practitioner in Scotland required an amendment to the Secretary of State's regulation-making powers, now contained in the National Health Service (Scotland) Act 1978. In the absence of any legislative opportunity, a fresh and comprehensive review of this gap in the coverage of the service committee procedures has been undertaken and my right hon. Friend is now advised that the power to make regulations to impose such a responsibility is already contained in the 1978 Act and moreover that the existing provisions of the National Health Service (General Medical and Pharmaceutical Services) (Scotland) Regulations 1974 already have the effect of making a doctor responsible for any failure to provide the services which he has contracted to ensure are provided even where such failure is attributable to the act or omission of a deputy not on the same medical list or the staff of such a deputy.I am therefore advising health boards to this effect and that they should consider complaints concerning acts or omissions of such a deputy or his staff under the provisions of the National Health Service (Service Committees and Tribunal) (Scotland) Regulations 1974. I am further advising health boards that they should take no initiative to review past cases in view of the attendant difficulties but that any complaints now submitted in respect of a past case should be dealt with under the provisions of the service committee regulations, including the provisions for late complaints.Notwithstanding that the existing regulations are now viewed in this light, I consider that it would be desirable that the general practitioner's responsibility in this regard should be stated explicitly in his terms of service. I am therefore arranging for the profession to be informed of the revised view of the existing legislation and my officials are consulting the British Medical Association about a draft amendment to the National Health Service (General Medical and Pharmaceutical Services) (Scotland) Regulations 1974.It is important to bear in mind that the arrangements for dealing with complaints in the National Health Service do not preclude a patient from taking action for negligence at common law.