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Ministry Of Pensions

Volume 465: debated on Tuesday 24 May 1949

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Artificial Limbs

8.

asked the Minister of Pensions the numbers of suction socket artificial legs now under trial by selected legless patients; for how long the trials have been proceeding; and when the suction socket limb is likely to be put on the approved list for general issue to all war pensioners to whom they would prove advantageous.

About 50 patients have been wearing artificial legs fitted with suction sockets for varying periods ranging up to about two years. As a result of observations made during these trials a number of modifications have been made, especially in connection with the valve. A supply of the improved valves has just been received and I now intend to ask a number of limbmakers throughout the country to fit suction sockets to their particular make of legs for trial by not less than another 100 patients.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman, in view of the fact that these trials have been going on for some time now, and that certain hopes have been held out to the limbless that this may be a much improved limb, if he can give any definite information at a near date whether these limbs are likely to be approved or not, anyhow in principle?

The trials have been satisfactory so far, but it has been possible during this period of trial to make sundry improvements, and we naturally wish to issue the limb generally only when we are satisfied that every possible improvement has been made. I would not like to commit myself to a definite date at this moment.

9.

asked the Minister of Pensions how many mechanical hands, and types of hands, are undergoing trials by selected armless patients; for how long the trials have been proceeding; and when the mechanical hands are likely to be made available to all armless war pensioners.

Six mechanical hands of one type have undergone trials by selected amputees since April of last year, and reports are now available for consideration by the Standing Advisory Committee on artificial limbs at their next meeting which will probably be held late next month. Another type of mechanical hand has now been produced and is at present being tested. If the Standing Advisory Committee are satisfied with the performance of either or both of these types of mechanical hand, they will be made available to all disabled war pensioners and National Health Service patients for whom they are suitable.

Widows

10.

asked the Minister of Pensions what are the provisions available for the widows of totally disabled and unemployable ex-Service men in cases where his Department cannot award a widow's pension, and there is no entitlement to a pension under National Insurance because of the man's inability to contribute by reason of his extreme disablement and unemployability.

I have no power to award a pension to the widow of a war pensioner whose death was not in any way related to the effects of his war service. I understand from my right hon. Friend, the Minister of National Insurance, that though a widow's pension can be awarded under the National Insurance Act only if the necessary contribution conditions are satisfied, he is prepared to review the circumstances of any case which the hon. Member has in mind to see if the insurance conditions can be regarded as satisfied. As I said in the course of the Debate on 26th April last, however, a widow who is ineligible for either pension may, if she is in need obtain assistance from the National Assistance Board.

Could not my right hon. Friend go a little further and produce some definite regulations on this point, in view of the fact that it is the general wish of everyone in the country that the widow of a man who is 100 per cent. disabled and disqualified from coming under the provisions of the National Insurance scheme should not have to go to the National Assistance Board when her husband dies?

As I said recently, we have made one advance in abolishing the distinction which existed previously between a death hastened by, and a death caused by war service. At the moment the number of cases coming forward of the type which the hon. Gentleman has in mind is comparatively few, and I have no evidence to show that if they go to the Assistance Board they are not received in a most sympathetic way.

Benefits (Minister's Letter)

11.

asked the Minister of Pensions what the response has been to the personal letter and leaflet he sent to pensioners informing them of the benefits to which they were entitled.

The response to my letter to pensioners has been gratifying. I estimate that about 80,000 letters or interviews have so far resulted. In a substantial proportion of these cases, I have been able to help the pensioners in one way or another.

Is my right hon. Friend now satisfied that everything is being done to bring to the notice of pensioners many improvements which have taken place in the last few years, and is his Department able to cope with the tremendous increase which has come about through this?

Yes, Sir. I can think of no other way now that remains by which we could make it better known. A letter to every individual plus a good deal of publicity in the newspapers, has, I think, brought it home to every pensioner. As for coping with the work, the consequence, of course, has been a certain delay here and there in answering every letter, but we are over the peak and I think we have done quite well.

Would my right hon. Friend consider making a small stock of the leaflet available to the various voluntary organisations open to ex-Service men, so that should an ex-Service man lose, or fail to receive through the post, his own personal copy, he will have no difficulty in getting one locally.

Yes, Sir. I thank the hon. Member for that suggestion, and I will adopt it with pleasure.