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Complaints (Departmental Hospitals)

Volume 131: debated on Wednesday 13 April 1988

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(1) Subject to subsection (2) below, the provisions of the Hospital Complaints Procedures Act 1985 shall apply to hospitals directly managed by the Department of Health and Social Security as though they were managed by a health authority.

(2) The Secretary of State shall, after consulting such bodies as appear to him to represent the interests of the public within the National Health Service, by order made by statutory instrument establish Regulations for the application of the provisions of that Act to enable it to apply to those hospitals.

(3) A statutory instrument under subsection (2) shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'.— [Mr. Fearn.]
Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 19—Complaints ( Ministry of Defence Hospitals)

`—(1) Subject to subsection (2) below, the provisions of the Hospital Complaints Procedures Act, 1985, shall apply to hospitals managed by the Ministry of Defence as though they were managed by a health authority;
(2) The Secretary of State for Defence shall, after consulting such bodies as appear to him to represent the interests of the public within the National Health Service, by order made by statutory instrument establish Regulations for the application of the provisions of that Act to enable it to apply to those hospitals;
(3) A statutory instrument under subsection (2) shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'.

The Hospital Complaints Procedures Act 1985 has the potential to be a very useful piece of legislation. It is unfortunate that we are still awaiting its implementation and that consultation on the details of its implementation has taken so long. Perhaps the Minister will be able to report some progress in his reply. However, one limitation that has seemed to me unnecessary has been the restriction of its operation to hospitals managed by health authorities.

The new clauses seek to extend the terms of the Act to two other kinds of hospital. New clause 17 would extend the legislation to cover hospitals directly managed by the DHSS. These are the special hospitals, and the top security Park Lane hospital, which I recently visited, is one such hospital. The work of the Mental Health Act Commission is of great importance in this context, but it still seems appropriate to include provision for management to take action in the same way as the management of health authorities are required to take action in mainstream hospitals.

New clause 19 would extend the legislation to cover Ministry of Defence hospitals. As far as I can see, there is no justification for saying that an NHS patient who is receiving treatment in such a hospital, probably as a result of an NHS arrangement, should not be accorded the same rights as other NHS patients.

The new clause enables anyone to debate the rights of service men who complain about things that could go wrong. It seems entirely wrong that a member of the armed services should have inadequate protection against problems that have nothing whatever to do with his employment. The problems covered by the new clause are cases in point. At this stage there is a need to be prescriptive on that more general issue. The matter can be debated before the regulations are laid under the new clause.

The Government should have no difficulty in accepting these proposals. We are sure that the Government do not reject the view that all patients should have equal rights, without arbitrary distinction.

As the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) said, his new clause seeks to apply the provision of directions issued under the Hospital Complaints Procedure Act 1985. He may know that I was associated with that Act, because, as a Back Bencher, among other things, I took it through the House on Third Reading. I agree with the hon. Gentleman's implication that it is a useful and valuable piece of legislation.

We are about to issue a circular to the National Health Service. It has been delayed to secure final consultation with the Health Service Commissioner, the ombudsman, and the joint consultants' committee. Comments have been received and it is planned shortly to issue the circular under that legislation. Very minor modifications to the text of the circular are being made. It is expected that the directions will come into effect possibly in June or July. Of course sufficient time must be given for the health authorities to prepare for their responsibilities under the Act.

New clause 17 is unnecessary. The directions will apply to hospitals managed by the Department of Health and Social Security. They will be required to follow the provisions of the Act in exactly the same way as hospitals in the National Health Service. Therefore, it is not necessary to establish a separate statutory instrument for the special hospitals. They will be covered by the Act, the circular and the directions that we are about to issue.

New clause 19 deals with Ministry of Defence hospitals. Each hospital for which the Ministry of Defence is responsible already has well established procedures under which complaints may be made by or on behalf of patients at that hospital. These complaints are taken very seriously and are thoroughly investigated either locally or by the Ministry of Defence itself. Booklets explaining these procedures are supplied to patients on admission to hospital and notices giving information on the complaints procedures are displayed in out-patient areas at each hospital.

Although Ministry of Defence hospitals do not come within the provisions of the National Health Service Act 1946, the Ministry's complaints procedures were reviewed in the light of the provisions of the Hospital Complaints Procedures Act. It was concluded at that time that while the provisions of the Act were not binding on the Ministry of Defence, they had already been implemented by the Ministry. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence tells me that he is satisfied that these arrangements ensure that patients treated in Ministry of Defence hospitals have adequate means by which to make complaints. On that basis, we feel that new clause 19 is also unnecessary and the hon. Gentleman might not wish to press it.

In view of what the Minister said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.