HC Deb 01 July 1948 vol 452 cc2377-80
The Minister of Pensions (Mr. Buchanan)

I will, with permission, make a statement to the House on artificial limbs.

As I told the House on 22nd June, I have been holding discussions with representatives of the artificial limb industry regarding supplies of these articles for the disabled as a part of the National Health Service. I am now glad to say that satisfactory arrangements have been agreed between us which will enable every firm in the industry, which is able to produce a limb of high quality, to continue in production. These arrangements will be as follow:

  1. (1) Every patient requiring an artificial limb will be asked to attend at one of my Ministry's limb fitting centres reasonably close to his home. He will there be examined by a Ministry of Pensions experienced and highly qualified limb fitting surgeon who, in consultation with the surgeon who performed the amputation, will prescribe the type of limb required for his particular stump.
  2. (2) The patient will then be given all necessary information to enable him to make his choice of limb from lists of makers whose limbs have been approved by the Ministry of Pensions and who have entered into a contract for this purpose.
  3. (3) If he chooses a limb such as is now being supplied to war disabled pensioners he will get this as a free issue. If he chooses an approved limb of some other make and this costs more, he will be charged the excess.
  4. (4) If he chooses the free limb, he will be dealt with throughout at the Ministry's limb fitting centre. If, however, he chooses another approved limb he will be put into touch with the maker who will arrange for measurements to be taken and fittings to be given. He will be required to attend at the Ministry's limb fitting centre when he has been satisfactorily fitted in this manner, where he will be examined by the limb fitting surgeon, who will ensure that the limb is satisfactory in all respects.
The considerations I have had in mind in making these arrangements are, firstly, that the patient should, on the one hand, have a reasonable selection in regard to the type of limb and maker, while, on the other hand, he has at his disposal all the specialised medical skill acquired by the Ministry's limb fitting service during the last 30 years, and it is for this latter reason that I attach great importance to the patient visiting the limb fitting centre both at the beginning and at the conclusion of the limb fitting operation. So far as the limb makers are concerned, these arrangements will enable private firms making high quality limbs to continue production under reasonably favourable conditions whilst, at the same time, safeguarding the adequacy and quality of the supply of artificial limbs which are likely to be required under the National Health Service Act.

Mr. Churchill

May I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his benevolent swan song, and may I, with indulgence, express the feelings of Members in all parts of the House in wishing him a fruitful career of public service in the course which he has chosen?

Mr. J. S. C. Reid

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman questions on two points, which I am sure are not fundamental to this scheme? In regard to the final approval, is it really necessary, where there is a surgeon in the National Health Service who has performed the amputation and has approved the type of limb, for the Ministry of Pensions to be brought in for final approval? Could not the National Health Service surgeon certify final approval? Is it really necessary for the person in that case to go to the pensions centre? The right hon. Gentleman referred to consultations between the two surgeons, and that may entail a good deal of difficulty for the National Health Service surgeon. Cannot the National Health Service surgeon enable the patient to be put into direct touch with the firm concerned?

Mr. Buchanan

These matters have been the subject of discussion, and I have gone into this scheme very thoroughly. I hope that this scheme will not go on without a review at a comparatively early period, but in the early stages I must insist on a limb fitting surgeon. These are men in the medical profession who are accepted as knowing their job extremely well. While I am on my feet, may I say to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), with whom I have been associated: "Thank you very much?"

Dr. Haden Guest

Has my right hon. Friend anything to say about improvements to artificial limbs in the future?

Mr. Buchanan

The Ministry have a service at their disposal in connection with improvements to artificial limbs, and we spend a considerable amount of money and time on research. It is our purpose not only to make the results of this research available to the main Government contractors, but to make them available to every maker of artificial limbs.

Sir Henry Morris-Jones

While congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on this very fine gesture as a last act before he leaves the House, may I ask him to give further consideration to a closer contact between patients and individual firms in view of the record of individual firms in the manufacture of artificial limbs?

Mr. Buchanan

This scheme is a fair compromise, and I trust that Members will give it a chance to work. At the end of a reasonable period of time the matter can be reviewed again.

Mr. Leslie Hale

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the statement he has made will allay a good many doubts and will be received with general satisfaction, as most of his recent statements have been; and that if occasion does arise for him to leave the House, he will leave it with the gratitude and respect of ex-Service men everywhere and with the esteem of his colleagues in this House?

Mr. Spearman

As one who is very particularly concerned, may I pay my respect to the Minister for his bigness in going back on his original policy, and may I express my gratification that he has adopted this course which will help so many of us who have lost limbs?

Mr. Percy Wells

What is the position in regard to repairs to existing artificial limbs?

Mr. Buchanan

It is assumed that the person concerned will go back to the maker of the limb. We have come to an arrangement with the makers of these limbs that the Government will pay the proper costs of repair.

Mr. William Ross

In view of the fact that a patient may have to travel quite a long distance to a limb-fitting centre, will the Minister be still more benevolent and pay the travelling expenses?

Mr. Buchanan

That is one of the reasons for setting up these centres. If it is a reasonable distance which has to be travelled we will meet the reasonable costs, as we do now.

Sir Ian Fraser

May I, with the indulgence of the House, ask the right hon. Gentleman to take away with him the good wishes of ex-Service men generally whom he has served very faithfully in this House.