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Aged Sick (Hospital Accommodation)

Volume 465: debated on Thursday 26 May 1949

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asked the Minister of Health if he is aware of the inadequacy of existing facilities for the care of the chronic and aged sick in the city of Birmingham; and what steps he proposes to take to improve such facilities.

The regional board has two groups of experts investigating the problem, and will take further action in the light of their reports. Meanwhile unused beds are being brought into use wherever possible, and arrangements made with the local health authority for home nursing.

Whilst I appreciate that answer, is the Minister aware that within the past year more than 90 aged persons, chronically sick, have been admitted to mental hospitals; would he consider this aspect of the problem, especially in view of the fact that I understand that about 17 died within one month of admission, which really is a very grave matter?

With all respect, it is not enough to give the proportion of old people who died within a month of being admitted to hospital. People do die, and the assumption that they died because they went to hospital is one we ought not to make. When it is said that people are in mental hospitals, I would remind the House that during the war a great deal of the E.M.S. was in fact housed in separate parts of mental hospitals. They are not in the mental hospital as such but occupy the same physical accommodation as other people.

The right hon. Gentleman cannot get away with that. Is he aware—he should be aware—that of the first 31 of these aged people of over 65, to whom the hon. Member has referred as being admitted to hospital, 25 died of heart diseases, which was nothing to do with mental affliction. Is it not absolutely wrong that these old people should be certified as mental cases for the first time in their lives?

I cannot accept the statement that old people are being certified as mental cases in order to be taken into hospital. That is a gross and offensive charge against the doctors concerned. When the statement is made that a certain percentage of old people died from heart failure, well, old people have been dying from heart failure for millions of years.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have been the chairman of a big mental hospital in Birmingham and that the statement made by the hon. Member for Solihull (Mr. M. Lindsay) is quite untrue?

Before 5th July last the care of old people was the obligation of the local authorities and since 5th July it is the regional hospital Board who are not prepared——

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. As regards the certification of people, it is the responsibility not only of a doctor, but of a magistrate. Is it in order to suggest in this House that magistrates have not properly discharged their duty and that a wrong certification has resulted?

As the right hon. Gentleman must be aware, in the terminal stage of life there is very often muddleness and it is quite easy to certify people in order to find accommodation for them when previously they would never have been certified because there was accommodation available provided by the local authority.

The assumption which is being made, and the charge which is being made, is that the doctors concerned and the magistrates concerned are certifying old people as mental who might not be mental. The politics of the Opposition are now leading them into making the most grave charges.

In view of the serious statements made which suggest wrongful certification, will not my right hon. Friend cause an inquiry to be made?

Certainly I will cause an inquiry to be made, but I do think that before allegations are made in this House which might cause grave pain and anxiety the facts should first be ascertained. The hon. Members should be ashamed of themselves for saying such things.

On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. It is one of the rules of this House that an insinuation should not be made. I, for one, ask whether you think it is right that the right hon. Gentleman should accuse Members of the Opposition of exploiting cases of great tragedy purely for political ends?

One can always accuse a party of doing all sorts of things. To accuse individual Members is another matter, but parties can always be charged. We always charge each other's parties with all sorts of offences.

Might I say that there was no such implication in my Question? I was only concerned at the large number of sick people who had been admitted to mental hospitals.