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Volume 530: debated on Thursday 15 July 1954

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asked the Minister of Health whether he is satisfied that there is a sufficiency of trained staff to deal with an outbreak of poliomyelitis such as occurred in Canada in 1953; and what action is being taken to give special training to nursing staffs in hospitals.

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

Sufficient trained staff should be available, if arrangements are made to transfer volunteer nurses from the general hospitals to the special units which my right hon. Friend has advised regional hospital boards to set up. Most of the boards have already made such arrangements, and are also arranging for special training to be given to nurses seconded to infectious diseases hospitals.

Is the Parliamentary Secretary satisfied that if we were so unfortunate as to have an outbreak of the type referred to in the Question, the trained staff now available would be sufficient?

It is reasonable to think so. Special steps have been taken and all the 14 regions already have centres with staff who have considerable experience in this matter; but we would obviously have to draw on volunteers if there was any unprecedented outbreak.


asked the Minister of Health whether he is aware of the large numbers of cases of poliomyelitis that occurred in Denmark in 1952 many of which were of the bulbar paralytic type; and what steps have been taken since then to provide suitable treatment if such an outbreak affected Britain.

Yes, Sir. I am sending the hon. Member a copy of a memorandum which was circulated to hospital authorities in August, 1953, and on which action has now been taken all over England and Wales.

Does the Minister remember that in Denmark medical students had to be impressed in order to work an improvised iron lung and to work right through, day after day and night after night, to keep patients alive? Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that it is most essential to have a sufficiency of iron lungs throughout the country in case we have any difficulty of this kind?

Yes, Sir. The memorandum to which I have referred was prepared and circulated having particularly in mind the Danish experience. It takes all this into account and deals, in particular, with the formation of experienced teams to combat this disease.

Cuirass Respirators


asked the Minister of Health the cost of importing a cuirass respirator of the Monaghan type from the United States of America for the treatment of poliomyelitis; what research has been undertaken to evolve a similar type in Britain; and whether it is now being manufactured.

The average delivered cost of the Monaghan cuirass respirators imported recently from the U.S.A. was £853, including duty. Following officially sponsored research in this country a new type of cuirass shell has now been developed. Twelve sets of these shells are being assembled under contract and will shortly be delivered for clinical trials.

Would not the cost be perhaps one-tenth of the figure quoted by the Minister if we made these respirators in this country? Ought we not to have a fair number of them, which would allow beds to become vacant that, otherwise, must be occupied for a very long time?

The cost of the shells being made in this country is about oneseventh—it is £120—and I have no doubt that the shells which are being delivered at the end of the month will be of great value.

Cannot import duty on this type of apparatus be waived in order to bring down the cost of this valuable aid?

I think my answer indicated that we are overcoming that problem by manufacturing suitable shells in this country.

Cancer Cases (Registration)


asked the Minister of Health if he will make a statement showing the results of his circular requesting hospitals to do everything possible to achieve the registration of all cases of cancer.

Reports from hospital boards are not yet complete, so I regret that I am not at present able to make any statement.

Is the Minister aware of the growing public concern at the fact that there seems to be an increase in the number of cancer cases, and that it is felt that if the facts were really known, an even more serious position would be revealed than is contemplated in some quarters and might warrant still more vigorous action being taken in trying to deal with this disease?

I am very much aware of the public concern in this matter. Cancer is not by any means increasing in all sites. I asked for these reports by the 30th of last month. We have not yet received them all, but as soon as we do perhaps I can write to the hon. Member and he can put down another Question.

Appointments, Charing Cross Hospital (Application Forms)


asked the Minister of Health the outcome of his inquiries with the Board of Governors at Charing Cross Hospital concerning the requirements of applicants to fill up 45 copies of their qualifications.

I am informed that the number of copies of applications required in future is to be brought into line with practice elsewhere.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the letter he has sent me, which was received after the Question was put down. Will he publish in HANSARD what action he took and the reason for it, and do his level best to reduce as much as possible the number of forms which have to be filled up throughout his Ministry?

In reply to the last point, certainly. This custom has been going on for a very long time in Charing Cross. The reason for it, I understand, is that the hospital used to circulate these applications to all the consultant staff. There are obvious reasons against doing that, and the hospital, I am glad to say, has agreed to reduce the number of forms.

Barncoose Hospital, West Cornwall (Improvements)

21 and 22.

asked the Minister of Health (1) what sum was included by the West Cornwall Hospital Management Committee in their budget for the current financial year for improvements to Barncoose Hospital; and what sum was approved by the regional hospital board;

(2) what sums have been spent in capital expenditure on improvements to Barncoose Hospital, Cornwall, in each of the last two financial years.

The only capital scheme proposed in relation to this hospital was the reconditioning of accommodation to take aged mental patients at an estimated cost of £12,000. It was not possible to fit this into the capital programme. Capital expenditure in 1952–53 was £750 and £5,032 was spent on building maintenance in that year. The capital expenditure in 1953–54 was £434, but the figure of expenditure on building maintenance is not yet available.

Will the Minister bear in mind that while there is considerable local pride in the work of the geriatric unit at this hospital, there is considerable apprehension at the wretched state of parts of the building which was inherited from the Public Assistance committee—which was, perhaps, no fault of that committee? Will he do all that he can to speed the improvement in the conditions of the building?

Yes. I recognise the claims of this hospital, and, indeed, of all those that were formerly Public Assistance institutions and which form a special problem within the hospital service.

Patient, Guy's Hospital (Death)


asked the Minister of Health if he will make a statement on the case of Jean Reid, Bethnal Green, who died immediately following an injection of vaccine while being treated for asthma in Guy's Hospital recently, and upon who no inquest was held; and what has been the result of the inquiry conducted into the use of this vaccine throughout the country.

As the statement is rather long, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Is it not a fact that this young girl died within a few minutes of the injection of this vaccine? If so, in view of the unusual circumstances, why was no inquest held? When the Minister has made his inquiries, will he publish a report? Can he say what is the nature of this vaccine, how it is produced, what is consists of and how it is administered?

I deal with all those matters in my statement. It is true that the girl died within half an hour of the injection, but the death was reported at once to the coroner. The coroner, who has to decide whether there should be an inquest, referred the matter to the Home Office pathologist and was satisfied as a result of that inquiry and the pathologist's report that no inquest was necessary. The vaccine comes from the Wright Fleming Institute, attached to St. Mary's Hospital. Although there is no particular reason to suspect it, we have called in all the batches applicable to that period and are investigating them as quickly as we can.

Following is the statement:

Jean Reid had been attending the asthma clinic at Guy's Hospital since September, 1953, when aged 18 years. On 25th May, the date of her death, she attended for the last of a series of desensitisation injections with gradually increasing doses of vaccine which had begun on 7th January, 1954. The injection was given in the normal manner and she waited afterwards in the department, since patients frequently have reactions from these injections and are always kept in the clinic for half an hour after treatment. The injection was given at 2.15 p.m.; about 10 minutes later she complained to the nurse of feeling ill, and a doctor was called. Despite every effort to revive her, her condition deteriorated and she died about 2.45 p.m.

Of 21 patients attending the clinic four, apart from Jean Reid, had reactions and in view of her death were retained longer than normal for observation as a precautionary measure. All four patients were seen at about 5 p.m. by a senior consultant physician and were found to be quite well. They were discharged on the following morning.

The coroner was notified of the death, interviewed the medical officers concerned, and arranged for a post mortem examination to be carried out by a Home Office pathologist. I understand that the coroner as the result of his inquiries decided not to hold an inquest.

No inquiry has been conducted into the use of this vaccine throughout the country, and there is no evidence that points to the vaccine being at fault. As a precaution, other vials of the same batch have been recalled by the distributors and tests are being undertaken of the batch of vaccine actually used at Guy's Hospital. Up to the present, however, no significant result has been obtained.

Hospital Engineers


asked the Minister of Health why there has been no increase in salaries since 1948 of hospital engineers in mental hospitals; and why new appointments in these hospitals have been made at much lower salaries.

Where a hospital engineer has received no increase in his 1948 salary scale the reason is that this is more favourable than the current National Health Service scale for his post. New appointments are made on the current scale.

Does the Minister mean that there has been a down-grading in salary for hospital engineers and, therefore, there has been a decrease rather than an increase because of some Ministerial rearrangements?

No, that is not the position. There have been two increases since 1949 in the scales, but certain people—and this is common trade union practice—have their salaries protected because they were higher than the salary scale. They can swop to the Health Service scale at any time, and the reason that they have not benefited as individuals from the increase is because their protected salaries were higher than the scale.


asked the Minister of Health if he is satisfied with the present composition of the staff side of the Whitley Council, Professional and Technical B; and if he will consider giving more representation to hospital engineers.

This is a matter for the staff side itself; but I have not heard of any difficulties.

Is the Minister aware of the great dissatisfaction among hospital engineers, and that, quite contrary to the answer which he gave on a previous occasion, I have information indicating that these people are not adequately represented and that their wages were downgraded compared with what they were?

We cannot go back to that Parliamentary Question and answer, but if I may I should like to have a word with the hon. Gentleman so that we can try to sort out the difference which appears to exist. As to representation on the council, the correct course is for the appropriate trade union to take the matter up with the staff side.

Yardley Green Sanatorium, Birmingham (Nurses)


asked the Minister of Health if he is aware that, owing to the shortage of nurses, one ward of 50 beds and 56 beds in other wards in Yardley Green Road Sanatorium, Birmingham, may have to be closed; and, in view of the number of cases in that city awaiting admission, what action he will take to speed up the recruitment of nurses to that hospital.

I am aware of the difficulties here. The Birmingham Regional Hospital Board, with the help of the Ministry of Labour and National Service, is doing everything possible to recruit more staff.

Is the Minister aware that there are now 250 medical cases and 250 surgical cases awaiting admission to this hospital? Would he consider better and more attractive conditions and pay for these student nurses, or go one further and make more use of the scheme in Switzerland, where beds are empty and where there is no shortage of nurses?

The figures I have for the waiting list are a little different from those which the hon. Member has given, which, I think, are the figures for the group and not for Yardley Green. My figures for Yardley Green are 72 and a substantially larger figure of 265 for thoracic surgery. This is a grave problem and we are doing everything we can. I will take note of the suggestions made by the hon. Member.

Patient, London Hospital


asked the Minister of Health why Mr. W. A. Henshaw, of Tuilerie Street, Shoreditch, who visited the London Hospital on 10th June with a doctor's letter stating that he had attempted suicide, was neither seen by a psychiatrist nor detained in hospital; if he is aware that this patient committed suicide two days later; and what steps he will take to ensure that cases of this nature are in future treated as emergencies.

I greatly regret the tragic circumstances of this case, but I must make it clear that the terms in which the patient was referred to the hospital did not, as the hon. Member suggests, indicate that he had attempted suicide. I agree, however, that it would have been preferable for him to be dealt with as an emergency.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, according to my information, the doctor's letter did state that the patient attempted to commit suicide and that that information was accepted by the coroner at the inquest? While I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his sympathy, which will be appreciated by the family, may I ask whether there is not something he can do to ensure that this sort of tragic occurrence does not occur again?

Yes, I accept that. As far as my information goes, I have actually seen the original letter and while it does say that the father had strong suspicions that the boy had suicidal intentions there is no evidence in it to show that he had attempted suicide.

Hospital Service Reserve (Uniforms)


asked the Minister of Health whether nurses on the Civil Nursing Reserve are to be issued with uniforms, and what will be the cost per uniform and the total anticipated cost involved.

It has been decided, in principle, to make a personal issue of uniform to members of the National Hospital Service Reserve, but the details have not yet been settled and no firm estimate of cost can yet be made.

Mental Hospital Nurses (Recruitment)


asked the Minister of Health what progress he has to report on the recruitment of nursing staff for mental hospitals.

Between 30th June, 1953, and 31st March this year the nursing staff in mental and mental deficiency hospitals increased by 119 full-time and 272 part-time. Recruitment measures are still being vigorously pursued.

Has the hon. Lady organised a general recruiting campaign to meet the desperate need for increased staff, and, if she has, will she keep in mind the well-organised meeting held in Huddersfield in March of this year? Secondly, does the Minister propose to implement the recommendation in the report of the Central Health Services Council that there should be training courses for mental nurses which would be recognised as adequate mental training without the necessity for full nursing qualifications?

The bulk of the money available for recruitment has been devoted to the mental health side, but we believe that the money can best be spent on local campaigns because recruits have got to be drawn from the areas within the vicinity of the hospitals. Thirty-six campaigns have been arranged; 18 are completed or on the way to completion; and 18 are still to be completed.

As to the second point, this is a matter for the General Nursing Council but the hon. Member seems to have gone a little astray in his supplementary and I should like to meet him later and discuss it with him.

Is the hon. Lady aware that the figures she has given do not show that the recruitment is being successful? That being the case, will the Ministry consider whether improved salary scales and other conditions are necessary in order to speed up the recruitment of nurses for mental hospitals?

Wage negotiations are a matter for the joint negotiating machinery. There has recently been an increase of staffs in mental hospitals. We are certainly not satisfied with the result of the recruiting campaign, but it is not half way through yet and it is a little premature to condemn the whole campaign in advance.