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Edgware Hospital

6. Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): If he will make a statement on progress with Edgware Hospital's new-build project. [202207]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): The current phase of building at the new £40 million Edgware hospital is due to be completed later this month. The new hospital will be operational in March of next year and will provide an expanded range of services, including intermediate care, services for the elderly mentally ill and a dedicated centre for children, thereby improving both the quality and convenience of local NHS services.

Mr. Dismore: Does that not show the progress that we have made in the health service, and certainly in my area, bearing in mind that Edgware hospital was closed by the Conservatives in April 1997, before that year's election? Will my right hon. Friend pay an early visit to the hospital to see what we have been able to achieve there, and will he look favourably on our bid for additional diagnostic services, particularly an MRI scanner—to be shared with the Royal National Orthopaedic hospital—and a CT scanner? Such equipment would ensure that we have diagnostic services fit for the 21st century, just as the new hospital will be.
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Mr. Hutton: I am glad to join my hon. Friend in welcoming the new hospital in his constituency. There is no doubt that the NHS is making progress in his part of London. I shall be happy to visit the new hospital when it is operational. We are looking carefully at what additional diagnostic services may be necessary in London and in my hon. Friend's area in particular, including additional MRI capacity. Those decisions will be taken locally, but I can confirm to him that we are looking to significantly increase and improve diagnostic capacity in the NHS in London.

Clinical Trials

7. Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): What measures he is taking to ensure compliance with the concordat on the NHS funding of excess treatment costs of Medical Research Council clinical trials. [202208]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Ms Rosie Winterton): The NHS plays a vital part in medical research, ensuring that patients benefit from new and better treatments. We expect primary care trusts to meet the excess treatment costs of Medical Research Council clinical trials from their general allocations.

Dr. Harris: The Minister has not answered the question. What measures are the Government taking to ensure compliance with the concordat? The hon. Lady says that she expects compliance. In the Thames valley there is not enough funding for recruitment to Myelona IX, an MRC blue chip trial, and the strategic health authority tells me that the only way it can ensure compliance is to include it as a performance measure. What is the point of a health service circular such as HSG (97) 32 if the only way it can be enforced is through performance targets? Is it not important that we guarantee funding to ensure equitable access to critical research trials?

Ms Winterton: I am aware of the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. There is massive extra investment going into his primary care trust. I am aware also that the strategic health authority held a meeting on the issue with the chief executives of primary care trusts on Friday, and that he has written to my noble Friend Lord Warner, who will be looking into the matter and, if necessary, pursuing it through the strategic health authority.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Would not considerably more money be available to the Medical Research Council if money did not have to be diverted to protect workers in primary research projects from the activities of animal rights activists? Is it not about time that that link was made so that the public could understand the importance of the work conducted by scientists and the MRC?

Ms Winterton: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I know from my constituency work that the public are concerned about those activities and their effect on medical research. As I am sure my hon. Friend
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knows, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is taking through legislation to deal with some of those activities, with the full support of Labour Members.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Will the recent changes to the MRC grant system offer greater opportunities for working in partnership with charities and other research councils? If so, what are those opportunities?

Ms Winterton: We are looking at ways in which the relationship between the MRC and the charity sector can be expanded. I do not know the details of how that will be implemented, but I am prepared to write to the hon. Gentleman if that would be helpful.


8. Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): What plans his Department has to increase the recruitment of allied health professionals. [202209]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): The national health service is on course to meet its expected requirements for an additional 30,000 therapists and scientists in the NHS between 2001 and 2008. Since 1997 the number of allied health professionals working in the NHS has increased by 26 per cent. to 55,946.

Mr. Jack: Although the Minister's reply is helpful —he well knows the health pressures on the Fylde coast—will he look into the availability of child psychologists in the Fylde, where I am told that waiting times of up to 80 weeks for a first consultation are not unusual? In the case of the supply of speech therapists, the Minister knows from correspondence that I have sent him that that is currently being curtailed by difficulties in establishing new training positions at St. Martin's college. Will he look at both of those in the light of his answer and see whether some of the bottlenecks that we are facing can be ameliorated?

Mr. Hutton: I always try to be helpful to the right hon. Gentleman and I shall certainly look into the two matters that he has raised. The waiting times for child psychology to which he referred are totally unacceptable, and I shall bring my best endeavours to bear to sort them out for him.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is a shortage of occupational therapists in the NHS? That is certainly true in the Burnley area, where the shortage causes problems with social services and other organisations when decisions are being made about how dwellings should be adapted so that people can live at home rather than be forced to stay in hospital.

Mr. Hutton: I understand that occupational therapy faces particular recruitment difficulties, as my hon. Friend has noted. We have never claimed to have solved every capacity shortage in the NHS work force, but we are making significant progress towards improving
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the service's capacity in respect of allied health professionals. That is an important area, and we will do our best to make further progress in the years ahead.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): Under the draft Mental Health Bill, the Government propose a new and extended role for approved allied medical professionals. That role would be similar to the one performed by approved social workers. What steps are the Government taking to plan for the recruitment and training of suitable staff when the Bill becomes law?

Mr. Hutton: My hon. Friend the Minister of State has published for consultation a draft work force plan that deals with the issues that the hon. Gentleman raises. We are still discussing those matters in the NHS.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) (Lab/Co-op): In my constituency, the local primary care sector has had considerable success in recruiting foreign physicians' assistants. What steps are being taken to recruit, train and give accreditation to our own, home-grown physicians' assistants?

Mr. Hutton: A significant amount of work is going on in the NHS to deal with the question that my hon. Friend raises. We all want the NHS to be more flexible, responsive and convenient, but that means we must make a significant investment in improving the skill mix in the work force. Much work needs to be done locally and nationally in relation to the activities of the professional bodies and groups such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council. However, it is right and proper that we make a concerted effort to make sure that the NHS catches up with many other developed health care systems, and especially the US, where assistant practitioners play a very expanded role.

I think that we can catch up. We are making good progress, and the traditional medical professions are not being dumbed down, as some have suggested. This is a sensible path to take, as it will allow the NHS to become more flexible and efficient. It is in the interests of everyone, both taxpayers and patients, that we make maximum progress in this area.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): Is the Minister concerned that 82 per cent. of radiographers rejected the proposals in "Agenda for Change"? Why does he believe that increasing their working week from 35 to 37.5 hours—without a corresponding increase in hourly rates of pay—will improve morale, or encourage radiographers into the profession?

Mr. Hutton: Thirteen other professional groups—

Mr. Burns: I was talking about radiographers.

Mr. Speaker: Order.

Mr. Hutton: Thirteen other professional groups have voted to accept the increased hours for allied health professionals. I regret that the radiographers have rejected the deal, but we are still working with the Society of Radiographers to find a sensible way
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forward. We are keen to discuss a number of proposals, including the use of recruitment and retention premiums. Those discussions are under way.

I can tell the House that the maximum pay rate for basic-grade radiographers will rise by 15 per cent. under "Agenda for Change". That is a significant investment, and we are also making significant headway in recruiting more radiographers into the NHS. The vacancy rate for radiographers is falling and we have doubled the numbers coming into training. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is prepared to welcome those improvements at least.

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