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Lord Colwyn: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he say whether the escalating costs of suspension litigation will affect the recently announced increased spending on the NHS, which of course we all applaud?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, if we are having to pay more money out as a result of litigation, clearly that has to come from the pool of money we make available to the National Health Service. However, some of the figures I have seen in the media

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have been rather exaggerated. The figures quoted list the potential liability if all the claims currently being made against the NHS were to be successful. While I would by no means underplay the significant implications of the rise in litigation, I think that some of the figures are exaggerated.

Lord Rea: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may make one point. Both the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, and I mentioned the solution that appears to have satisfied most people in Scotland. She asked whether the Government would take into consideration what has happened in Scotland in any decisions that are made in this area in relation to England.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Yes, my Lords. I recollect that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, also asked me about the position in Scotland. We are aware of the arrangements that have taken place in Scotland. As I said, we were going to develop our own guidance in relation to the suspension of doctors, but this has been overtaken by the wider work contained in the Chief Medical Officer's report. That is why we are developing the support and assessment centres and why I believe that suspensions in the future will be much fewer than at the moment.

I accept that we need to learn from the way in which our health services are being developed in the four countries of the United Kingdom. I also accept that we need to make sure--particularly in the case of actions taken against professionals--that there is a sharing of information. This should help to prevent practitioners who are the subject of disciplinary proceedings in a country where it is considered they should not be practising from moving to another country.

I refer noble Lords to the announcement last Friday by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister about the setting up of an initiative to enable both him and the First Ministers of the other countries to discuss matters relating to the National Health Service. That will allow us to have both cohesion in terms of NHS developments generally throughout the UK and will reflect the distinctive approaches of the four countries.

8.39 p.m.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, I thank most warmly those noble Lords who have been good enough to speak in support of the Bill. I would say to the Minister--I made this amply clear in my earlier remarks--that all of us feel that patients must be supported. None of us supports for one moment doctors who have behaved wrongly. What worries me is that the Chief Medical Officer's report and a good deal of what the Minister said is based on an assumption that many doctors out there are behaving very badly and must be dealt with. Suspensions come in almost as a second thought. That is why I said earlier that it is not a question of supporting bad doctors; it is a question of trying to support and help those doctors who have not behaved badly.

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I remind the Minister that the overwhelming majority of doctors who have been suspended are subsequently found to be innocent of all charges. All the way along the argument seems to be, "We must protect the patients. Therefore, we cannot protect the suspended doctors". That worries me very much.

I am very sorry indeed that Dr Shipman found his way into the debate. I have my own view about that monster, which I think is shared by many. The amazing point about the Shipman case is that other doctors cheerfully signed the papers for Shipman which enabled him for years to get away with what was going on. The machinery was in place, but it did not function. That is what troubles me about the Minister's answer. I have an awful feeling of deja vu because I raised this matter on numerous occasions in the other place. I have had two debates on it in the other place and one in your Lordships' House. On each occasion the Minister on the Front Bench has assured me, in rather the same terms as the Minister has assured me tonight, that all will be well, that official steps will be taken and the problem will fade away. But it never, never does. That is the trouble. That is why the Bill has been brought forward.

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I would assure your Lordships that the Bill's wording is not mine. We drew up the Bill because all the experts involved decided that these points had to be brought in as a fair way of dealing with innocent doctors who are suspended. The Minister referred to a trust deciding within one calendar month whether prima facie evidence existed. The view of the experts was that it was relatively simple at least to see that there was evidence--not to go into the evidence, of course, but to say, yes, there is evidence and that decision does not need to be dragged out over a period of years. That is why the experts wanted that point included.

It is because I am aware of the gross injustice which is going on and because I have lost faith that the matter will be sorted out without any national answer such as a parliamentary Bill would provide that I must ask your Lordships to be good enough to give the Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

        House adjourned at sixteen minutes before nine o'clock.

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