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Nhs And Private Medicine Developments

Volume 417: debated on Wednesday 25 February 1981

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2.51 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have been asked by any area health authority to restrict the growth of private medicine in London.

No, my Lords, we have not. Nor do we have powers to do so. I understand, however, that Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster Area Health Authority (Teaching) are engaged in local consultations on a possible application to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services for a designation order under the new power we introduced in the Health Services Act 1980. If granted, the effect would be to make private hospital developments in a specified area subject to authorisation by the Secretary of State under the procedures set out in the Act. Such authorisation would be granted unless my right honourable friend were satisfied that the development would significantly harm the National Health Service.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness the Minister whether she is able to say that her right honourable friend the Secretary of State is proposing to use the powers he has under the National Health Act to call in any such applications? May I ask her whether the Government are aware that in the health authority for the area in which your Lordships' House is situated, where there are two large hospitals, Westminster and Middlesex, one in seven of all posts in the various hospitals are vacant, amounting to nearly 1,200 jobs?

My Lords, as far as the first part of the noble Lord's supplementary question is concerned, the arrangements for authorisation were set out in the Act passed by the former Labour Administration in 1976 and amended by the 1980 Act. This means that the Secretary of State has to be satisfied that there is a prima facie case that further private development would significantly harm the National Health Service, and he has to consult anyone likely to be affected by the designation. On the noble Lord's second point, about staff, we are aware that some training and education is carried out in the private sector, particularly for nurses, but we believe that the private sector could make a greater contribution and we have discussed with them how this might be achieved.

My Lords, while thanking the noble Baroness the Minister for that reply, may I ask her, in view of what she says, whether it is not a fact that the area that we have both referred to has the largest number of private beds in the country—namely, 1,270-odd—and that in this particular area there are all the private facilities in Harley Street, Wellington Hospital and the Princess Grace Hospital? Further, is it not true to say that the competition that exists in this area, as in other areas, between the private sector and the Health Service is such that there is a considerable shortage of staff in our National Health Service hospitals, and that some of the intensive care units and the operating theatres, not to mention the nursing side, are seriously affected by the growth of the private sector?

My Lords, I recognise the figures that the noble Lord has given about this particular area of London; and, as he will know, the London Advisory Group report—and, of course, he was a member of that group—recognised that difficulty is being experienced in the National Health Service in London, both in recruiting and in retaining trained nurses and other staff. Indeed, the question whether private development would aggravate any such difficulties is one of the matters which can be looked at when an area seeks designation, or when an individual development comes up for authorisation.

My Lords, would the noble Baroness not agree that the delay in filling these vacant hospital posts is largely due to the Government's hesitation in coming to a decision as to the future of these hospitals?

My Lords, I think that is another question. In fact, I believe the noble Lord has a Question on that subject set down for answer later on, and I shall be very happy to answer it then.