§ 3. Mr. French
To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he has any plans to review the annual budgeting system of family health service authorities.
§ The Minister for Health (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley)
From next year, it will be for regional health authorities to determine the allocations which are given to family health services authorities and to ensure that they have adequate internal financial arrangements.
§ Mr. French
I accept in principle the idea of annual budgeting by family health services authorities, but does my hon. Friend accept that the establishment of new doctors' surgeries, particularly in urban areas, requires some co-ordination between the purchase of land and the design and construction of buildings? Does not a rigid annual system with a strict limit on the 12-month budgeting period work to the detriment of the creation of new surgeries?
§ Mrs. Bottomley
My hon. Friend has a longstanding constituency interest in the arrangements for distributing the substantial resources for the premises improvement scheme. More than £6 million was spent last year on such schemes in his family health services area and he will know that 67 of the 87 practices there have benefited. However, it is important to continue to ensure that the vast resources put into practitioner services are properly and effectively distributed. If there are aspects that we can look at more carefully, we shall certainly do so.
§ Mr. Kennedy
Given the significant contractual arrangements in the family doctor service, particularly during the past year or 18 months, and the anxiety that was expressed by many hon. Members on both sides of the House about the likely impact of some of those changes on employment prospects for female general practitioners, what evidence does the Minister have of the continuing employment on a part-time or full-time basis of female general practitioners?
§ Mrs. Bottomley
The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to know that I share his concern that we should continue to use women doctors in the NHS as well as we can. Half the medical students now are female and they should have an important part to play. The general practitioner's contract has meant that the specialties that many women doctors traditionally took up are particularly popular. We are watching the way in which women doctors are used. For the first time they can be employed as part-time principals, but they have expressed concern about the way in which they are likely to be treated by some male principals—[Interruption.] I have regular meetings with the organisations representing women doctors to ensure that we do not need to issue further guidance and that their skills are being fully used. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. Could these Christmas greetings below the Gangway be exchanged outside the Chamber?