HC Deb 02 May 1951 vol 487 cc1378-81

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Messer

In speaking on this Clause, I realise, of course, that the short time available prevents the Amendments on the Order Paper being taken. But I think that opportunity ought to be taken to impress on the Government the importance of these Amendments, notwithstanding the fact that they can no longer be moved, in the hope that the Government will, at some time, take such steps as are open to them to enable tuberculosis cases to go not merely to Switzerland but to such other countries where special types of tuberculosis cases can better be treated than in this country. The truth is that in regard to respiratory tuberculosis, Switzerland——

The Deputy-Chairman

I think the hon. Member is talking about an Amendment which is out of order.

Mr. Messer

I was discussing the Clause.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Gentleman can only discuss what is in the Clause.

Mr. Messer

With regard to respiratory tuberculosis, which is in the Clause, I think it ought to be understood that Switzerland has nothing to offer this country in the way of positive treatment. So far as surgical work is concerned, for instance, we have not merely as good surgeons but better surgeons than there are abroad. It is well known that this aspect of tuberculosis is as well treated here as anywhere. There is a type of tuberculosis which can better be treated in Switzerland, however, and I hope that the Government will give consideration, therefore, to that particular aspect.

There is one thing about the Clause which ought to be made clear. Unfortunately, already there is an opinion growing up that we shall be able to send a large number of cases to Switzerland for treatment. I am inclined to think that many hopes will be disappointed, for the truth is that the number of cases we shall be able to send will make not a great deal of difference to the number of people wanting treatment. It would be wrong to delude those who are suffering from tuberculosis with the hope that they will be able to get immediate treatment more quickly now; indeed, I can foresee some difficulty in this respect.

I understand that the regional hospital boards will be charged with the responsibility of selecting the type of case. It is going to be a very difficult job indeed to say who shall have priority in being sent to Switzerland for treatment. What is going to happen to those who are not chosen? We have somewhere in the neighbourhood of 11,000 people waiting for admission to hospitals in this country. That figure of 11,000 is diminishing, and I want to pay tribute to what is being done by organisation of available resources to accommodate a larger number of tuberculous patients in the ordinary general hospitals.

As the result of an experiment tried in one region, advice has been given by the Ministry to regional boards to persuade the management committees to set aside a certain proportion of their ordinary general hospital beds for tuberculosis cases. The result has been a reduction in the number of patients on the waiting lists. Whilst it is true that steps are being taken in that direction, it would be wrong to let people assume that because this is in the Bill, there is going to be any great benefit derived from the fact that we shall have this limited number of beds available in Switzerland.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

It would be a pity if it went out from the Committee that there was anything to regret in this provision because, although it is a small number, it is, after all, a number. It adds to the list of staff beds, which is the essential thing. It will be difficult to make a choice, but not so difficult as not being able to make a choice at all. The fact is that, in so far as we take accommodation in other general hospitals, we are taking it away from cases which already require treatment in other respects. In so far as we use up beds in general hospitals for the treatment of tuberculosis cases, we withdraw them from some other cases which badly need treatment.

2.0 a.m.

I trust that the utmost use will be made of the sources provided in the Bill. I believe the present estimates are too pessimistic. As I understand it, more beds could be made available than the number suggested. Admittedly, this is on an experimental basis, but I am sure that, in spite of all the difficulties, we must press ahead in every possible way. It is true that Switzerland is not a better country for the treatment of tuberculosis than this country, but it is a country which has staff beds in it, and that is the essential thing. There are the empty beds and here are the cases. Let us bring the two together as rapidly and as extensively as possible.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Miss Herbison)

It is true that the number of beds which we estimate at present will be available in Switzerland is small, but, even so, this Clause is further evidence of the Government's determination to conquer what we might describe as one of the gravest social problems in England and Wales, as well as in Scotland. In 1950 we added 2,000 beds for tuberculosis patients in England and Wales, and during the same period we added 325 in Scotland. This year we hope to add in those countries about the same number as we added last year.

I am certain most people will agree that the very fact that we have tried to obtain these beds in Switzerland shows how important are the Government's efforts to cure what has been a great scourge, particularly in Scotland. It is true that the death rate for tuberculosis went down by 20 per cent. in Scotland in 1950, and that the incidence has gone down slightly. We chose respiratory cases here because those are the cases where there is a fear of infection. This is an attempt to bring down the incidence of this disease.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I do not wish to be controversial, but the hon. Lady will admit that for a long time we pressed this matter and that it is only now, and belatedly, that this step has been taken.

Miss Herbison

I am sure the right hon. and gallant Gentleman does not wish to be ungenerous. We had to take a considerable time to ensure that the facilities for both Scottish and English patients would be the very best we could get.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.