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Points of Order

3.31 pm

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. May I refer you to yesterday's Hansard, where the Secretary of State for Health said:

I have today been handed a file of documents that makes serious allegations about a private cosmetic surgeon, who practises at various clinics in the United Kingdom. The former patients and other surgeons who made the allegations consider it an absolute scandal that he is still operating. He has even been described as a psychopath by another doctor. The General Medical Council has received many complaints about him, yet he continues to operate.

I have not named that surgeon today, but I shall have no hesitation in doing so in a week's time unless I hear something that dissuades me. Can we expect a further statement from the Secretary of State for Health about how he intends to ensure that patients are protected against cowboy operators in cosmetic surgery?

Madam Speaker: I have not been informed by the Secretary of State that he seeks to make a further statement. I understand what the hon. Lady said about her desire to raise the issue again if no statement is

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forthcoming. She is a long-standing Member of the House, and I am sure that she knows her way around and is aware of how to proceed in the matter.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You have already ruled once this year on the length of Ministers' answers. Today, I had Question 7 on the Order Paper, and I reasonably expected that I would have a chance to ask it. However, the Minister responsible chose to filibuster to prevent the issue of the anti-drugs co-ordinator being raised because he knows very well that the anti-drugs co-ordinator has been the victim of a whispering campaign by the Government, notwithstanding the fact that he receives--

Madam Speaker: Order. What is the problem for me?

Mr. Chope: In my submission, Madam Speaker, this is a serious problem for you. Your responsibility, which you uphold, is to protect the rights of Back Benchers. Is it not reasonable to expect more than six Back-Bench questions to be asked in half an hour?

Madam Speaker: There were more Back-Bench questions, because supplementary questions were asked, but I certainly accept the spirit of the hon. Gentleman's comments. I am disappointed daily by how few questions on the Order Paper are reached--largely because of the number of questions that individual Back Benchers ask and the very long answers that Ministers often give. It appears that I make such a statement every week. I hope that Ministers on the Treasury Bench will heed my words and that the message will go throughout the House to Back Benchers of all parties and to all Departments, wherever they may be throughout London. Thank you very much for raising the matter, Mr. Chope.

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Register of Medical Practitioners (Amendment)

3.35 pm

Ms Linda Perham (Ilford, North): I beg to move,

The purpose of my Bill is to give the General Medical Council greater powers to protect patients. Where a doctor is erased from the register for committing a criminal offence or for serious professional misconduct, my Bill would extend the time before that doctor could apply to be restored to the register from 10 months to three years. It would give the GMC the power, after two unsuccessful applications for restoration, to ban that doctor from ever reapplying. It would also require struck-off doctors to show that they have the skill and knowledge to be able to practise again safely.

Those new powers would ensure that a doctor had no chance of being able to practise again for at least three years following erasure. Doctors would then have the right to two chances to convince the GMC that they were rehabilitated and safe to practise. The measure would strengthen sanctions against dangerous doctors, provide better protection, offer public reassurance and send a clear message to the medical profession and patients that erasure from the medical register meant erasure for life, save in the most exceptional circumstances.

I present the Bill in response to a case involving a young woman who died in January 1995 as a result of a doctor failing to identify signs of fatal blood clots. She was Maria Ayling, aged 20--the same as my elder daughter, Caroline. I also have a 19-year-old daughter, Sarah, so the loss of such a young, much loved girl just out of her teens, engaged to be married with the prospect of a long, happy life, has a particular resonance for me.

Maria lived in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), who has supported the family in their fight for justice. Maria's father, Eric, has campaigned tirelessly these past five agonising years, right through from the anguish, despair and anger on the day of her death, to the health authority inquiry, which found her general practitioner, Dr. Gosai, in breach of the terms of service for doctors on five counts, to the fight for a High Court decision to hold an inquest, to the GMC hearing that erased Dr. Gosai from the register in 1997, to the organisation of a petition of more than 2,000 signatures to my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) in June, to the GMC meeting in November, when the changes that I am proposing were discussed, to this very day. I pay the warmest tribute to Mr. Ayling for his tenacity, determination and commitment to carrying on the battle on Maria's behalf.

Throughout this terrible time, Eric Ayling has been backed in his fight by our excellent, campaigning local newspapers--the Recorder group in Barking and Dagenham, and Redbridge--and especially by Lindsay Jones, news editor of the Barking and Dagenham Recorder and Chris Carter, editor of the Ilford Recorder. They have continued to support Eric in their news coverage and appealed to local people to sign the petition on lengthening the amount of time before an erased doctor may reapply for restoration to the register.

2 Feb 2000 : Column 1046

For members of the public, one of the most shocking revelations to arise from the case was that a doctor who has been erased from the medical register can reapply to the GMC for restoration after only 10 months. In a survey for Carlton Television last year, two thirds of people thought that a struck-off doctor was banned from ever working as a doctor again, and three quarters thought that the Government should not allow struck-off doctors ever to practise again. Under the provisions of the Medical Act 1983, doctors who should be struck off for life because of the nature of their offence may apply every 10 months to be allowed back on to the register. Although the GMC can refuse repeated applications from doctors, that right to reapply every 10 months creates a presumption in favour of doctors and makes it far more difficult for the GMC to ban for life.

Although I support the right of doctors to be rehabilitated and to be given the opportunity to demonstrate their fitness to practise, it is crucial that the public should be protected from dangerous doctors, both in the surgery and in hospital. By a tragic coincidence, only two days ago a verdict was reached in the case of Dr. Harold Shipman, an evil man who used his position as a trusted medical practitioner to murder a large number of patients. Members of the public have expressed dismay at the provisions governing doctors who are unfit to practise, which have a negative impact on the medical profession. The Bill's success is important for medical safety and the return of greater confidence in the medical profession.

I am delighted that the Bill has cross-party support, including that of my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), who is a lay member of the GMC and chair of the Labour Back-Bench health committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), who is Chairman of the Select Committee on Health, and other members of that Committee. I am also pleased that Sir Donald Irvine, president of the GMC, is able to support the principles of the Bill. In a letter to me of 21 January, he wrote:

I am further encouraged that the chair of the GMC's committee on professional performance, Professor David John Hatch, who lives in a constituency neighbouring mine, has also offered his support to the Bill.

I should also like to thank the Consumers Association for helping to draft the Bill and for the support that it has given me in providing background information on other reforms that should be considered. Although they are not in the Bill, they should be considered in the broader context.

Last October, the Consumers Association's investigation into GMC procedures for dealing with complaints about doctors uncovered a system that simply does not work for patients. Complainants were overwhelmingly dissatisfied

2 Feb 2000 : Column 1047

and the majority questioned the fairness of the procedures. Among several suggestions for change, the association recommended that the proportion of lay to medical members at the GMC be increased to help reduce the imbalance in some procedures. Other recommendations included routinely giving complainants an opportunity to see a doctor's response to their complaint and to have a right of reply, which they currently lack.

I believe that my Bill will go some way toward creating greater confidence in doctors and protecting patients. The relationship between doctors and patients is unique and my Bill will help to preserve the positive aspects of that relationship. The relationship is such that patients are vulnerable to the minority of doctors who abuse their position and are unfit to practise. Everyone who wants patients to be put first and supports enhancing the reputation of doctors should support the Bill. I understand from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health that the Government are broadly supportive of the Bill. I hope that the whole House will joining me in wishing it a speedy and successful passage.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Ms Linda Perham, Mr. David Amess, Mr. Kevin Barron, Mrs. Helen Brinton, Mr. Simon Burns, Dr. Ian Gibson, Mrs. Eileen Gordon, Dr. Evan Harris, Mr. David Hinchliffe, Mr. Simon Hughes, Dr. Howard Stoate and Dr. Jenny Tonge.

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