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Haemodialysis (Contingency Plans)

Volume 35: debated on Thursday 27 January 1983

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3.32 pm

(by private notice) asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what contingency plans he has made for the continuation of haemodialysis in hospital renal units in the event of diminution of water supplies.

It is agreed by both sides in this dispute that every effort should be made to avoid industrial action which would prejudice public health and public safety. We do not at this stage, therefore, expect there to be any prolonged interruption in water supplies to renal units. Health authorities have, however, been advised to make contingency plans for hospitals generally which might include transfer of patients to hospitals which are least likely to be affected.

May I turn the Minister's attention away from the emphasis on kidney machines in hospitals to the successful policy that successive Administrations have carried out for dialysis in the home? Is he aware that, in the event of patients at home being unable to continue using their kidney machines, they will either die or have to be transferred to a renal unit?

Therefore, has the hon. and learned Member made contingency plans for district health authorities to inform water authorities where those paients' homes are? Secondly, has he laid on the necessary extra ambulance service? Thirdly, is he aware that already overstretched renal departments are short of nursing and technical staff and will be forced to maintain a 24-hour dialysis programme? Will he take contingency measures to increase the nursing provision in renal units that may be called upon to accept many renal failures that have previously been dealt with successfully by home haemodialysis?

I am glad to say that both health and water authorities have updated lists of patients on home dialysis. If there is any interruption to supplies to the homes of such people, it will be treated as an emergency. I am also glad to say that there have already been a couple of instances where, I understand, water supplies have been restored to those districts where it is known that a home dialysis patient is living. If there were an interruption to water supplies, it would be necessary to transfer patients to hospital. I am satisfied that hospital renal units can cope with any foreseeable event unless there is a prolonged and general interruption of the water supply. I am glad to say that both sides in the dispute agree that such cases should be treated as an emergency. That arrangement has worked so far.

Is the Minister satisfied that water authorities can provide the required number of water tankers in an emergency? Is he aware that I am given to understand that Thames water authority is able to supply one hospital in my area that has 13 units but that it will not be able to supply other areas in London in which there are some 14 hospitals? Does he therefore agree that the urgency is to make contingency plans to provide the necessary water tankers?

The unions have undertaken to meet those emergency needs. So far, I have no reason to believe that any grave crisis has occurred anywhere. Hospitals are treated as emergency cases, but most of them can cope with a short interruption. They may have to transfer patients or restrict admissions if supplies are interrupted for more than 24 hours. I repeat that both sides in the dispute agree that emergency requirements should be met and that there should be no threat to public health.