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House of Commons Hansard
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Influenza Epidemic
30 October 1918
Volume 110

Belfast Prison

57.

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asked the Prime Minister what steps, if any, the Government have taken to prevent the influenza epidemic spreading; if he is aware that over 100 political prisoners are now suffering from this illness in Belfast Prison; that they have not sufficient hospital accommodation or nurses to cope with the outbreak; that their food is insufficient and of a poor quality, being tea and dry bread; and if he will state what steps the Government propose to take to deal with the matter?

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Dr. MacCormack, the medical member of the Prisons Board specially visited Belfast Prison in reference to the influenza epidemic. He reports that there are now under medical treatment for influenza 111 prisoners committed under the Defence of the Realm Regulations and fourteen officers of the prison. There is no foundation for the allegiation that the food is insufficient or of poor quality, or that the medical or nursing arrangements are unsatisfactory.

Special treatment and diet are afforded to each patient, and the medical officer to the prison has authority to engage additional medical assistance and trained nursing staff, and to order any extra articles of food or medicines that may be deemed necessary. The prison medical officer has already called to his assistance Dr. Tweedie, of Belfast, and Professor McKisack, M.D., as consultant. There is no reason to think that the prisoners are not receiving all proper care and medical treatment.

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Have some of these prisoners been transferred or will any be transferred to hospitals in other institutions where they can be better attended to?

Ministerial Statements

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asked the President of the Local Government Board whether, in view of the continued spread of influenza, he will state to the House how many medical advisers there are attached to the Local Government Board; whether they are all at present engaged in giving their whole time to preventive measures dealing with the epidemic; whether, in view of the grave results arising from the spread of the disease, he considers the staff wants strengthening; and whether he does not think it advisable to issue broadcast advice as to what steps can be taken by the public to prevent the spread of infection?

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The staff of the medical department of the Local Government Board consists of a medical officer and four assistant medical officers, together with twenty medical inspectors.

A memorandum of instruction as to the preventive measures available, which was prepared by the medical officer, has been issued to every sanitary district in England and Wales and the sanitary authorities, under the advice of their medical officers of health, are urging the adoption of the preventive measures in their several districts. In the invaded towns information as to the precautions available has been distributed broadcast by means of leaflets, posters, and Press notices. In many of these areas day schools and Sunday schools have been closed, and the public have been advised to avoid crowded assemblies. In some instances voluntary arrangements have been made for excluding children from cinema performances, and also for increasing the time between performances, so as to allow the air in the building to be thoroughly changed.

The medical staff of the Board are devoting all such time as is necessary to this epidemic, and will continue to do so. I do not at present consider that the staff needs enlargement in consequence of the epidemic.

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Does the right hon. Gentleman know that in many areas there is great uncertainty amongst the public as to the best steps they have to take, and would it not be well to issue some general advice which can be publicly posted and wisely distributed?

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That is precisely what we have done, but we think that that general advice will be much more likely to percolate through the medical officers of health acting through the various sanitary authorities. I am quite ready to make further inquiries as to how far that is being done, and to urge upon the medical officers of health and every sanitary authority to give whatever public notice they can by various means appealing to the public to obey, as far as practicable, the injunctions laid down.

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Is it a fact that a sure preventative against influenza is cocoa taken three times a day?

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May I ask the President of the Local Government Board whether the medical officer of his Board has conferred on this subject with the medical officer of the Board of Education, having regard to the number of children affected by this disease?

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A Conference has been sitting at the Local Government Board during the last few days to which the Medical Officer of Health of the Board of Education has been contributing his very wide experience and knowledge, and other experts are engaged in attending that conference to confer one with another to see what best can be done.

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Can the right hon. Gentleman tell the House whether there are many of the sanitary districts, to which circulars have been issued, which are without the services of a medical officer of health at the present time?

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I could not give the right hon. Gentleman any accurate statistics. There is a shortage of doctors in every direction, and medical officers, no doubt, to a certain extent have been depleted by military calls upon them. I will also make inquiries on that point.

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Having made those inquiries, will the right hon. Gentleman see that in sanitary districts where there is not a medical officer of health, the instructions which he has given shall be applied by some other competent person?

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I will see that whoever is acting as deputy shall be equally apprised, that it is our desire that that information shall be widely disseminated.

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May I ask whether consideration is being given as to the desirability of prohibiting public meetings?

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asked the President of the Board of Education whether, in view of the continued spread of influenza, he will state what is the view of the Medical Department of the Board regarding the advisability of closing schools at the first appearance of influenza in the school; and whether he thinks it desirable to issue some general advice as to what steps can be taken to prevent the spread of infection through the association of so many children?

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The closure of schools, or the exclusion from school of children suffering from infectious diseases, including influenza, is a matter which rests with the local education authorities or the governors of the schools concerned. Appropriate directions, issued by the Board of Education in conjunction with the Local Government Board, for the prevention of the spread of infectious diseases occurring among children attending public elementary schools have long been in the hands of all local education authorities and school medical officers. The wisdom or propriety of closure or other action is obviously dependent on the local conditions of the case, upon which it is, of course, impossible for the Board to pronounce. Among such conditions is the degree of prevalence and severity of the disease, as well as the home or other alternative circumstances of the children thus excluded from school. The case of each school must be determined on its merits. It is, of course, essential that all children suffering from catarrhal symptoms, feverishness, or other illness, should at the present juncture be at once excluded, and in many cases it will be found advisable to close the whole school, or at least departments or classes in the school. As a rule school closure is more effective in rural districts than in towns. Playgrounds should not remain open when schools are closed. As regards the second part of my hon. Friend's question, I have not up to the present thought it necessary to issue any general advice of the nature suggested by him. It is obviously impracticable to consider school children separately from other sections of the population which are not within the province of the Board of Education.

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Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the result of closing schools is that children run about the streets to play, and are more liable to contract the disease than if they are in warm buildings?

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That is one of the considerations to which allusion is made.

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asked the Under-Secretary of State to the Air Ministry whether a serious epidemic of influenza and septic pneumonia broke out at the Royal Air Force Camp at Blandford, Dorsetshire, in the week ending 19th October; whether the epidemic increased in virulence during the week ending 26th October; whether many hundreds of cases occurred last week and many deaths every day, mostly of very young lads; whether the medical arrangements have been utterly inadequate to deal with the epidemic; whether there has been and still is a grave insufficiency of doctors and nurses; whether the sick men are lying on very dirty straw mattresses, and whether there is an utter lack of necessaries and comforts of every description, and especially a great dearth of utensils, crockery, bedding, and blankets; whether there has been any organisation of local supplies and local assistance; whether the Dorsetshire Red Cross have been called upon to give help; whether all last week, when the epidemic was at its height, hundreds of fresh men and young lads were arriving daily in this infected camp; whether fresh men are still being sent to the camp, and what steps are now being taken to deal with the situation?

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The prevailing influenza epidemic reached Blandford Camp on 21st September, and has continued to the present date. The number of cases increased in the week ending 26th October, during which 252 cases were reported; of these 198 were sent to hospital. The number of deaths since 21st September is fifty-nine. The average daily strength of the camp is about 15,000. Since the epidemic started five additional doctors and nineteen additional nurses have been sent to deal with the situation. The hospital accommodation has been materially extended, and recourse has been had to semi-official agencies. My information does not bear out the suggestion that sick men are allowed to lie on dirty straw mattresses, and everything possible is being done to provide necessaries and comforts. For administrative reasons, independent of the epidemic, the drafting of recruits to the camp has been stopped for a period of one week.