HC Deb 05 November 1918 vol 110 cc1941-3

asked the Comptroller of the Household, as representing the National Health Insurance Commissioners, whether the Medical Research Committee of the National Insurance Com missioners has for some time past been undertaking important research work in connection with influenza; whether the results of the research have been made public; and, if so, whether a full use is being made of the knowledge they have acquired?

Sir EDWIN CORNWALL (Comptroller Of the Household)

In view of the public importance of the subject-matter of the three parts of my hon. Friend's question, my reply is necessarily of some length, and I would therefore ask him to let me circulate it with the OFFICIAL REPORT instead of reading it now.

The following is the reply circulated:

The Medical Research Committee have been continuously engaged, since the beginning of the first wave of the epidemic last spring, upon special efforts in regard to the etiology and the prevention of influenza and its complications. They have collected and periodically published expert reports of observations from all quarters, and have organised special researches in regard to it. These efforts have been more restricted than would otherwise have been the case owing to the urgent needs of the Army for pathological and other investigations into numerous kinds of diseases and wound problems, in which the Committee have also been heavily engaged from the outbreak of war until now. The Committee's activities in all these fields are fully set out in their Annual Reports to me, which are presented to Parliament, and have a wide distribution amongst experts and the profession, for whom they are, of course, from their nature, mainly useful. Their Fourth Report, which is now before me, will be published in a few days.

In reply to the second part of the question, I may say that in the first week of last August the Committee sent to the medical newspapers, for the information of the medical and health authorities, a résumé of various important communications on the subject of influenza, including an indication of the likelihood of the onset of secondary waves of the epidemic in the autumn, which their inquiries led them to expect would be more severe in character than the primary wave of last spring. For that reason the Committee on that date publicly invited observations from experts at various centres with a view to the further organisation of co-ordinated work in the study of those secondary waves. The severity of the present epidemic now shows that that anticipation on the part of the Committee, which can be read in the "British Medical Journal," of 10th August, was all too fully correct, and that the Committee did its duty in giving the warning beforehand to the expert authorities.

As regards the actual epidemic itself, the Committee have been continuously collecting expert information, likely to be useful to the health authorities and the medical profession, as to its nature and progress in Europe, from the chief foreign sources, including much important work done during these months in Germany and Austria. This the Committee have periodically published in English, combined with the results of British observations, in their Monthly Medical Supplements, of which several thousand copies are regularly distributed amongst professional experts and put on sale, early copies being sent to the Medical Department of the Local Government Board and other Government Departments concerned. My hon. Friend should see specially the September, October, and November issues, of which I am sending him copies.

With reference to the practical side of the problem, I should state that the Committee were strongly represented at the important conference of bacteriologists, held at the War Office some weeks ago on the possibilities of utilising vaccines for the prevention or treatment of the prevailing forms of influenza amongst the troops, under the chairmanship of Sir William Leishman, Adviser in Pathology to the Army Medical Department, and also a member of the Medical Research Committee. The outcome of that discussion was issued to the medical Press by Sir William Leishman, and it also appeared in the pamphlet issued by the Local Government Board on the subject. In addition to this, the Committee's Bacteriological Department have been giving aid to the War Office in the steps which have been taken to prepare and provide protective vaccines against the dangerous complications of secondary infections amongst the troops; and the Committee's Secretary concurrently made suggestions to the medical officer of the Local Government Board for analogous steps to be taken by that Board for the benefit of the civil population.

In this connection, and in reply to the third paragraph of the question, I must remind my hon. Friend that it is not the duty of the Medical Research Committee to carry out the actual treatment or prevention of this disease, which is the province of the public health authorities, local and central, but to obtain new knowledge and valuable information in regard to it by special researches and otherwise, and to have this readily available to those health authorities, for them to put to its proper practical uses for the benefit of the civil population. The earlier paragraphs of this reply will have shown, I hope, that the Committee has carried out its proper functions in this respect with considerable effectiveness, especially in view of the difficulties occasioned by the constant loss of trained researchers claimed for military service.