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Ministry Of Health

Volume 526: debated on Thursday 29 April 1954

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Hospital Beds (Private Patients)


asked the Minister of Health what steps are taken to ensure that private beds are not reserved for the use of fee-paying patients when there are urgent or chronic cases on the general waiting list.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health
(Miss Patricia Hornsby-Smith)

The National Health Service Act, 1946, specifically provides for patients in urgent medical need of treatment to be admitted to a pay bed without charge if no alternative accommodation is available. My right hon. Friend has brought this to the notice of hospital authorities, and has also asked them to ensure that pay beds not in full use for private patients are used for other patients whether urgent cases or not.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary say what view her right hon. Friend takes, not merely in connection with my own constituency but generally, of the heavy fees that are paid by private patients for minor operations, like the removal of tonsils, for which they are able to get immediate attention within a week of the arrangement being made with the specialist or consultant concerned, whereas children who, in the opinion of their parents, are suffering from defective tonsils have to wait as long as six months before they can get the operation done.

I hope the hon. Member will not exaggerate these claims, because in the case of hospitals in which he himself is interested my right hon. Friend did assure him that whereas 25 tonsillectomies were done a week under the National Health Service there were only four a year done on private fee-paying patients. I can assure the hon. Member that if there is any evidence which he or other hon. Members wish to bring to my right hon. Friend's attention, we shall be very glad to go into it in order to ensure that there is no abuse. I do not think it is fair to suggest that there is this widespread abuse when the case which we investigated for the hon. Gentleman is not justified.

World Health Organisation (Budget)


asked the Minister of Health whether he will instruct the representative of Her Majesty's Government on the relevant committee of the World Health Organisation, at the next appropriate meeting of the committee, to press on behalf of Her Majesty's Government for a substantial increase in the regular budget of the Organisation and to pledge this country to pay its fair share in the increase.

The proposed regular budget of the Organisation for 1955 shows a substantial increase over that approved for 1954, but my right hon. Friend is not satisfied that this increase is justified. The matter will be further considered at the next World Health Assembly. The United Kingdom contributes to the budget on a scale approved by the Assembly.

That does not seem to answer the question of whether, at this further meeting, the United Kingdom representative will press for an increase in the total budget of the Organisation so that it can overcome its many problems.

In view of the very disappointing reply of the Parliamentary Secretary, will she give an assurance that there will be a long-term guarantee of funds to the Organisation to that it can recruit the technical and qualified staff so urgently needed for long-term contract work.

That is a much wider question which I cannot possibly answer today.

Will the hon. Lady ask her night hon. Friend to examine the very important projects which would greatly promote British interests and which are now being held up because the Organisation's budget has been so long stabilised?

Can the hon. Lady say whether any countries do not pay their contributions to the World Health Organisation, and, if so, what is the total amount involved?

If my hon. Friend would put a Question on the Order Paper I should be happy to give him an answer.

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply. I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible opportunity.

Foreign Residents (Tuberculosis)


asked the Minister of Health if he will make a statement on the problem of persons from abroad taking up residence in this country while suffering from active tuberculosis.

My right hon. Friend hopes to be able to make a statement within a few days.

Emphysema (Research)


asked the Minister of Health if he will set up a special centre for research into the cause and cure of emphysema; and if he will give an estimate of the number of sufferers affected.

Research into the lung conditions with which emphysema is usually associated is in progress in a number of centres. There is not information available to form an estimate of the number of sufferers.

As neither the cause nor the proper cure of this complaint has yet been discovered, will the Minister do all she can to step up research with a view to relieving sufferers?

This is not generally recognised as a separate disease entity, but rather as a concomitant of other disease conditions. Research generally into diseases of the lung is already carried on in such centres as Hammersmith, Brompton and Sheffield, which cover research into this particular disease.



asked the Minister of Health if he will, as a means of combating cancer, take steps to give powers to local authorities to register all persons suffering from this disease; and if he will promote schemes to educate patients through general practitioners and other means on the best form of treatment.

Hospitals boards are already encouraged to arrange for the registration of all cases treated in hospital, to provide information about incidence and results of treatment. My right hon. Friend has already invited local authorities to promote educational schemes, in co-operation with hospital authorities and general practitioners.

As many people who suffer from this disease are afraid to go to their doctors in the initial stages, would the Minister carry on a campaign, through medical officers of health, to encourage these people to come along at a stage when doctors can render them some assistance, rather than leave it too long, when it is beyond the power of a doctor to assist?

I share the hon. Member's concern about this grave disease, but I cannot accept that people are more likely to go to the medical officer of health to report their condition than they are to their own general practitioner. In this matter we are working on the advice of the Standing Advisory Committee on Cancer and Radiotherapy, and we are carrying out a scheme recommended by them. This is not an infectious disease and does not come in the same category as notifiable diseases to the local authority.

I am not suggesting that the patient should go to the medical officer of health, but that the medical officer of health should carry out a campaign on this subject.

An educational campaign has been approved by my right hon. Friend.


asked the Minister of Health what experiments have taken place in the use of the rays given off by the cobalt bomb as a means of treating deep-seated cancer; and if he will make a statement on this subject.

The experimental stage in the use of radio-active cobalt for the treatment of cancer has now passed. It is being used as a substitute for radium in the treatment of certain forms of cancer, particularly the deep-seated forms, in four radiotherapy centres in this country. Radio-active cobalt is more intensely radio-active than radium and makes treatment shorter and more efficient.

Seeing that this instrument, which could be used for the destruction of human life, can now be used for the healing of this terrible disease, will the Minister see that no expense is spared in carrying on these experiments? Will she issue a report on the progress that is being made in the experiments which have been undertaken?

This has got beyond the experimental stage. The hon. Member will know that the initial unit was at University College Hospital and that there are now units in operation at Sheffield and Leeds. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will not mind my pointing out that the word he used in his Question, namely, "bomb," is a misnomer, for no explosion takes place, and the use of this term has terrifying associations for the patients. I hope the hon. Gentleman will drop the use of it.

Children In Hospitals (Parents' Visits)


asked the Minister of Health whether he is satisfied with the response to his suggestions about greater facilities for parents to visit their children in hospital; and which hospitals refuse to allow visits, other than exceptions made on strictly medical grounds.

No detailed information is available, but my right hon. Friend has reason to believe that the response to his recommendations has generally been favourable.

If I send to the hon. Lady information of a hospital where the matron refuses to allow parents to see their children until they have been in-patients for one month, will she look into the matter?

I shall certainly be prepared to look into it, but the hon. Member will be aware that the final decision rests with the hospital and with the discretion of the matron of the hospital and not with my right hon. Friend.

Oranges (Thiourea)


asked the Minister of Health what reports he has received from medical officers of health, hospitals and otherwise in respect of intestinal or other ill effects, particularly with children, suspected to be due to the contamination of oranges by thiourea.

My right hon. Friend has received no reports of ill effects from this cause.

Is the hon. Lady aware that in several districts in North-East London analysts have reported that oranges sold in streets and shops have been contaminated with thiourea? In these circumstances, seeing the limited powers of analysis, would it not be as well to make inquiries?

I can assure the hon. Member that not least as a result of his Question inquiries have been made in the areas in which he is particularly concerned, and that we have had no reports from medical officers of health on the matter or from any general practitioner. If we had any evidence we should certainly follow it up.

Maternity Home Fire, Reading


asked the Minister of Health if he will make a statement on the recent accident at the Delwood Maternity Home, Reading.

My right hon. Friend is awaiting the report of a special committee of inquiry appointed by the regional hospital board, and he is not, therefore, in a position to make any detailed statement at the moment. Mean-while, he is sure that the House will wish to express its profound sympathy with the parents who were bereaved by this tragic event.

While thanking my hon. Friend for those expressions of sympathy, in which, I am sure, the whole House will join, may I ask whether, in view of the widespread national concern about this appalling tragedy, we can be assured that everything is being done to expedite the completion of this inquiry?

I assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend has no desire whatever to see any delay in the inquiry, but I am sure the House will recognise that it cannot be conducted until we have the fire officer's report, which must go first to the inquest, and before evidence can be obtained from the vital witness, Sister Holland, who has been too ill to be interviewed or even to attend the inquest. Until these possibilities are available, we cannot continue with the inquiry.

What outside authority had the responsibility for the inspection of the kitchen and heating equipment, which, it is understood, was the basis of the trouble? In any event, was it with the hon. Lady's concurrence that the fire officer opinionated that no blame was to be attached to the people who ran this establishment?

In view of the fact that both an inquest and an inquiry are to be held, I do not think that those questions should be answered at this time, even if I had the information available.