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Medical Examinations

Volume 409: debated on Wednesday 11 April 1945

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asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he is aware that Leading Seaman E. Bassett, now in M Ward, Upper Southern Hospital, Dartford, was given a medical examination at R.N. Barracks, Chatham, several weeks ago and was certified fit for service abroad though he protested that he was seriously ill; that he has now had a further examination which disclosed that he was suffering from tuberculosis; and whether he has any explanation to offer for this variation in the medical examinations.

No inconsistency in the assessment of medical category for service occurred in this case. The symptoms of which Bassett complained did not suggest pulmonary tuberculosis. He was examined by various specialists who reported that so far as they were concerned and subject to confirmation they saw no reason why he should not go to sea. On examination of his chest by X-rays, which took place about ten days later, pulmonary tuberculosis was suspected, although previous films had been negative: this diagnosis has now been confirmed.

Is it not the case that this seaman demanded a further examination because he was about to proceed to the Pacific zone, and that it was only after protest by his father and on representations made by me that this further examination took place? Will my right hon. Friend, in view of complaints, make inquiries about the medical examinations being conducted at the Royal Naval Barracks? It seems that there is something wrong.

Representations were made, as my hon. Friend states, a second time which led to a re-examination, but, in justice to the medical men concerned, I must say that, while there had been a previous X-ray film which did not show the complications which afterwards appeared, as soon as they were discovered he was sent to hospital for further special testing. None of the man's complaints had led them to look specially for pulmonary tuberculosis. They had been looking for symptoms that the man had complained of. May I say in general that we have on the whole very generous testimony to the medical officers? I had a letter this morning from a parent to say that he and his wife would never cease to be grateful for the service of the naval medical officer to their boy who had developed tuberculosis.

In view of the fact that mass radiography is now employed in industrial establishments, can my right hon. Friend say why it is not now used in the Navy?

I would like to have notice as to details of what is done about that in the Navy.

While making no general accusations against the medical personnel, may I ask my right hon. Friend to consider the suggestion I made to him that he should inquire into the whole subject?

I am making special inquiries as to how this case arose, and, incidentally, I shall be asking the very questions my hon. Friend has in mind.

Why is not a reexamination made the practice in order to find out whether there is tuberculosis?

It is the practice in connection with the general medical examination of our sailors, but this case arose out of particular complaints of the man.

As my right hon. Friend indicated that the medical officers in charge of this case were relying only on X-rays, may I ask if it is not a fact that tests are always taken before diagnosis where tuberculosis is suspected?

Will my, right hon. Friend consider the desirability of publishing in his answers the names of the specialists who did the examination?