HC Deb 23 May 1950 vol 475 cc1832-3
27. Mr. Reader Harris

asked the Minister of National Insurance when she issued her directive to branch offices instructing them that a claim may establish title to sickness benefit, by furnishing certificates signed by a person other than a registered medical practitioner, such as an osteopath, Christian Science healer or dentist; by what power such a directive was issued; and how many sickness claims have been paid on the evidence of certificates issued by persons other than registered medical practitioners.

The Minister of National Insurance (Dr. Edith Summerskill)

The National Insurance (Medical Certification) Regulations, 1948, require all claimants for sickness benefit to submit evidence of their incapacity. While this evidence normally includes a medical certificate, the statutory adjudicating authorities can take into consideration alternative evidence of incapacity if they think fit. I have no power to issue directions to these authorities. The information asked for in the last part of the Question is not available, but the numbers are believed to be very small.

Mr. Harris

Is the Minister satisfied that certificates should be accepted from faith healers, herbalists and other persons over whom control must necessarily be very vague, and is she herself, as a registered medical practitioner, satisfied with a state of affairs whereby the Willesden Institute of Natural Healing can tout for business by issuing circulars stating that certificates are available for National Insurance purposes?

Dr. Summerskill

This method of determining incapacity has been operating for nearly 40 years, and if the hon. Gentleman was a little older he would remember the sect called the "Peculiar People "——

Sir H. Williams

They are all over there now.

Dr. Summerskill

—who have a religious objection to doctors, and who have, in fact, formed their own approved society. I am quite aware of the fact that this right which people have of exercising conscientious objection, and which we believe it is right for them to have, may be abused, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are keeping a careful eye on the matter and that we have certain safeguards. We have sick visitors and also regional medical officers who can be called in for further medical examinations.

Mr. Harris

Does not the Minister draw some distinction between public funds and the funds of an approved society which were not public funds before?

Dr. Summerskill

Really, the hon. Gentleman is displaying appalling ignorance. Does he not know that, before 1948, these approved societies used both public funds and private funds?

Mr. Ewart

Is my right hon. Friend aware that her reply will give great satisfaction to thousands of people in this country who have for many years exercised this right of freedom of choice in determining what type of treatment they should take when sick, and that her devastating reply to the prejudices of the hon. Member opposite will be gratefully received?