HC Deb 02 August 1926 vol 198 cc2756-63

I wish to raise a matter with the Minister of Pensions. It is a matter which I raised at Question Time on 17th June, concerning a man who was an inmate of the Ministry of Pensions Hospital at Orpington in connection with other disabilities caused by War service. The fact that the Minister of Pensions is not able to be present to-night is quite understood by me. I know that he would have preferred to have replied, and I regard his absence as not due in any way to lack of courtesy, but as unavoidable. The question I asked on 17th June related to an ex-service man named William Richardson. I inquired whether the Minister was aware that, while this man was a patient at the hospital, he was knocked down and run over .by a motor car within the grounds of the institution; and I further suggested that the treatment that the man received in the hospital, with the subsequent amputation of his leg, was not qualified or proper treatment. The reply of the Minister, which was regarded by me as unsatisfactory, was that the Ministry could not accept liability in the matter because the accident occurred at the hospital gates and was caused by a private motor lorry which had no connection whatever with the Ministry. That was stated in the first portion of the reply. A second argument as to the inability of the Ministry to accept responsibility was that the Minister could find no grounds which in any way supported the suggestion of neglect or improper treatment on the part of the hospital staff.

During the time that has passed since the question was raised, I have been endeavouring to obtain information that would support the allegations made in this case, and I am now in a position, not only to confirm what was said in the House, but to add to it, and I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Parliamentary Secretary, in giving his reply, will be governed by the necessity of making fuller and even more proper inquiry into the matter than has hitherto been the case. Briefly the particulars are as follows: In July, 1921, this ex-service man was sent to Orpington Hospital for treatment for neuralgia and nerves. On Sunday afternoon, 27th November, the man was inside the hospital grounds talking to a military policeman. A motor-car proceeding outside the hospital grounds collided with the corner of the wall of the hospital grounds, and, through no intention of the driver, dashed into the grounds of the hospital. At any rate it was at least six or eight yards within the hospital grounds, according to our information, when it struck this patient, who was talking to the military policeman.


On those facts it seems clear that there is a civil action against the lorry driver.


I will not be deflected from the statement of the case, because the hon. and learned Gentleman who interrupts has no authority to pursue the inquiry after the case has been stated. I am quite prepared for the Parliamentary Secretary to give his reply. The man was severely injured and was taken into the hospital. He was not seen by the hospital surgeons. In fact he was in his own ward for two or three hours before he was seen by a doctor at all. He was then seen by a physician and not by a surgeon. The physician said that his leg was badly bruised. No further steps were taken. The man lay for 24 hours in the greatest of pain with no further attention. Another 24 hours passed before the leg was X-rayed, and it was only on Tuesday afternoon at four o'clock—the accident had occurred on the Sunday afternoon—that he was visited for the first time by a hospital surgeon. The limb was then examined, and the hospital surgeon said that it must be put into splints as soon as possible. Two hours later, or 51 hours after the accident, the Sister who was in charge of the ward in which the man lay, with two orderlies, commenced to set the limb without any anaesthetic, local or general, and without any qualified assistance for the setting of the limb. It may be that up to that point there was no direct negligence or improper treatment, if it happens to Le the practice in any hospital for fractured limbs to be set by persons other than qualified surgeons, but I submit that, even if that bad been the practice, or if a limb could he set by a nurse assisted by orderlies, it is a highly improper proceeding in the treatment of a man who is known by X-ray examination to be suffering from a fracture. The treatment should have been by a surgeon.

The man's description of the pain which he went through is something of this kind: "The sister got two orderlies and three or four patients to hold me down, and then started pulling and twisting my limb unmercifully before applying the splints." That statement can be supported by substantial testimony. For the following 17 weeks the man lay in his bed, and when the splint was removed the limb was bent, twisted and out of all recognition. Five days after the splint was removed the man received orders to leave the hospital immediately. In spite of his protest he left the hospital in a taxicab, and returned home. He saw his panel doctor, who, after examining him, said that he could do nothing, in view of the terrible state in which the man was. The man then went to the Sussex County Hospital for treatment. There he was examined by a surgeon, a Dr. Turton, who would be fully cognisant of the importance of making a statement which might be in the man's favour from the point of view of subsequent action, because this particular doctor is also a doctor or surgeon of the Ministry of Pensions. Dr. Turton was aghast, as also was the surgeon specialist who collaborated with him. They discovered that little or nothing could be done except by amputation, and the limb was subsequently amputated.

It may be said that this case has been again and again inquired into by the present Minister of Pensions when he was in the Government preceding the Labour Government and that during the time of the Labour Government a decision was given confirming the previous decision. That may be true. I am not raising this as a question of party politics and I hold no brief for the Minister of Pensions in the Labour Government or for the Minister of Pensions in the Conservative Government. One likes to deal with these questions, particularly where they affect the individual, without any regard to party politics, and certainly this man has no interest in party politics. It is in the interests of the man's own welfare that I bring the matter forward and without any regard as to whether or not it has been previously dealt with either by a Conservative or a Labour administration. I would only point out that the only occasion on which this case came under review during the term of the Labour administration was about four days after the Labour Minister of Pensions first appeared before the House in that capacity and then, in answer to a letter from the Secretary to the British Legion, the previous decision was simply reiterated. The matter never had the personal attention of the Minister of Pensions in the Labour Government, though it would have had, if the case had been brought before him in the same manner as it has been brought to the-notice of the present Minister. It was not brought to the notice of the Ministry in the time of the Labour Government, simply because the matter was not raised by any Member of this House and the facts were not then stated as they have been stated to the Conservative Ministry.

The position of the Ministry of Pensions is, that because the man was knocked down by a lorry, which was not the property of the Ministry, and because he was, as they contend, outside the hospital grounds, they can accept no responsibility. I submit that, in fact, the man was inside the grounds, but even if he were not, he would not have been at Orpington at all but for his condition, which was due directly to his War service. The responsibility for his presence in that hospital ought to be accepted by the Government. Had he not been there, he would have forfeited all the rights of benefit which he enjoyed under the Royal Warrant and, while he was there, he was, to all intents and purposes, a servant of the Ministry, and he would have to obey all their regulations. If there is a technical difficulty in recognising his present disability, I feel that the Minister of Pensions and the Treasury could find a way out of that difficulty which would be honourable to the Department and to the man and would not set up a dangerous precedent —of which perhaps the Department is more afraid than of anything else.

I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to believe me when I say that this case is not raised by way of making any attack on the Minister or his Department or his administration. I personally have met nothing but courtesy when I have endeavoured to present this case to the Ministry. I am raising it as a matter of principle, and I ask the Government to recognise that this man's present situation is due entirely to his patriotism. I ask them to remember that his patriotism did not commence with the Conscription Act. It took him into the voluntary forces in 1905, and in 1914 he went to France with his territorial unit. He was wounded at Neuve Chapelle, returned to France in 1923, and was finally discharged in 1919. Now he is going about with one leg—a condition directly due to War service—and the Government ought not to allow him to be a burden upon his people or the local rates or benevolent employers. He has benevolent employers, but one wonders how long that will last. His employers are the Brighton and Hove Gas Company, and I mention their name because they have acted splendidly in his case. They have paid his fares to and from his work since he has been incapacitated, and, if he remains with them about 10 years, they will voluntarily have shouldered an expense of about £100 in that respect. I feel confident the hon. and gallant Gentleman will give me an assurance that this case will be gone into again.


I realise that the hon. Member is raising this matter entirely because of his interest in the man's case, and not from the party point of view, but there arc one or two statements in his narrative with which I cannot agree. Before dealing with those, I might point out that he said this case had not been before the previous Minister of Pensions because it had not been raised by a Mem- ber of Parliament. That is rather underrating the people who did raise it. It was raised by the British Legion, who can, I think, he regarded as looking after the interests of ex-service men to the best of their ability. Coming to the hon Member's narrative of the facts, I must differ very strongly from him in several particulars. He said the man was standing at least six or eight yards inside the grounds when the accident occurred. The inquiry which was held does not substantiate that statement at all. He was standing at the gateway of the hospital and, in a thick fog, a motor lorry mounted the pavement and did undeniably run into him and knock him down.

Clearly, the Ministry were not responsible and attempts were made to trace the responsible party. The lorry itself was actually traced to a firm in the town, but they were able to prove that the lorry had been taken out without their consent or knowledge and they could not be held liable. The hon. Member then went on to make accusations which, f think, at heart, he can hardly believe himself. He says, in effect, that the treatment of the man in the hospital was extremely brutal and that he was not seen to for two or three hours after the accident. I have gone through the whole ease carefully since getting notice of the hon. Member's intention to raise it—I had never heard of it before—and as I read the evidence the man was seen to at once. The hon. Member also says that the man was not X-rayed until 48 hours after the accident, and that again is not the case.


Twenty-four hours.

Lieut.-Colonel STANLEY

I put it down as the hon. Member spoke.


If the hon. and gallant Member is under a wrong impression, may I correct it? It was 24 hours before the leg was X-rayed, and he was not seen by the physician for an hour or two after the accident.

Lieut.-Colonel STANLEY

My information is that he was seen by the doctor at once, and was X-rayed the next day. It was not until then that it was ascertained that he had a broken leg. That is a very common occurrence. I am not a medical man, hut I have known in my experience plenty of cases where a frac- ture was not revealed except as the result of an X-ray photograph, and that was the case on this occasion. As soon as it had been realised, as the result of the X-ray photograph, that the leg was broken, it was set. Here again I have the man's statement that it was set by a sister and that he was held down by two or three orderlies. I have looked through the whole case, because that is the man's own statement, which I have seen, and I can find no evidence of that of any kind. There is no evidence that it was not perfectly properly treated, and every possible care taken of him. May I point this out, that all the time the man was in hospital he made no complaint whatever of his treatment to the head of the hospital. He never complained that he had not been properly treated, and when he was discharged, five months later, the X-ray photograph showed that his leg had joined satisfactorily and was in a good condition.

He had the accident in November, 1921, and he was discharged in 1922. He had been taken into the hospital, very naturally, because it was the nearest place to which he could be taken. A Court of Inquiry was held as soon as possible to investigate the whole case, and it was clearly proved that the accident was not his fault, nor was it the fault of any official or servant of the Ministry. He was removed from hospital when his leg had reached a stage when he could be safely so removed, and that was in April, 1922. The next that was heard of him by the Ministry was not until November, 1923, a year and a-half later, and two years after the accident had taken place, and then he complained that his leg had had to be amputated, and he claimed that it was the responsibility of the Ministry. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions had investigated this case very carefully, and would have preferred, I know, to answer it himself, but in consequence of a previous engagement he was unable to do so, but when I heard of the case, I went into it most carefully for the first tile, and I must say that I cannot see on what grounds, either legal or moral, the hon. Member can claim that this man should he pensioned for this disability. He says that the man was an inmate of the hospital, and, therefore, as he had the accident, he ought to be treated as a pensioner for it, but I want to point out to him that all that we are entitled to do, all that we can do, is to treat a man for his War injury, and this is not a war injury. This happened some years after the War and had nothing to do with the War. When the hon. Gentleman says it happened to the man inside the Institute, does he mean to say that locality makes any difference? If it had happened 300 yards or a mile away, does he contend that the Ministry would have been liable because the man was an inmate of the hospital?


Whether inside or out.

Lieut.- Colonel STANLEY

I do not see that it has anything to do with it. If the hon. Member says he has got fresh evidence, it will be examined, but I am bound to say that, unless it is something completely new, which can be well corroborated, something quite different from what we have had at the present time, I honestly do not see how he can claim that this man should come under the pensions system, and he must remain simply a pensioner for his War disability and nothing else. If the hon. Member will send me any further evidence that he may have, I shall be only too glad to examine it and help hint in every way I can.

Question, " That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.

Bill according read the Third time, and passed.