HC Deb 27 October 1953 vol 518 cc2596-9
15. Mr. Dodds

asked the Minister of Labour if he will make a statement, following his inquiry into the work of the medical boards, giving details of what action he is taking to restore public confidence in the boards.

Sir W. Monckton

I and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary have visited a number of boards. I have had discussions with chairmen of other boards and officials have attended meetings of chairmen in all regions. These investigations have satisfied me that the medical men who comprise the National Service Medical Boards are fully alive to their responsibilities.

Nevertheless some errors in grading have occurred. Special investigation of cases brought to my notice, including those raised by hon. Members, since the end of June last has revealed about 20 such cases, which is not a large number in relation to an annual rate of about 300,000 examinations. The most common factor resulting in a man being placed in too high a grade is the failure on the part of the man to disclose his full medical history; unless a man discloses his full medical history, the board conducts his examination at a disadvantage. To correct this source of error the notice summoning the man has been revised and now advises him to bring to the board medical evidence of any past disabilities and ailments.

In a few cases there has been a lapse on the part of the board in applying the proper medical standards, and in other cases there have been clerical errors. The remedy for such mistakes is patient and constant attention to detail by the medical boards when applying the standards laid down. To help towards this, I propose to relieve the chairmen of any non-medical work which may be a distraction.

To provide a further safeguard against errors, I propose that in future every man summoned to a medical board will be informed by notice that if he has reason to think that he has been given a wrong grading he may appeal in writing within 14 days enclosing with his appeal any medical evidence he may desire to submit. Such appeals will be referred to the regional medical officer of the Ministry of Health for advice whether medical grounds exist to justify reexamination. Ordinarily any re-examination will be undertaken by a different board. Nothing that I have said should be regarded as a reflection on the manner in which the general body of chairmen and members of medical boards have performed their duties. Their task is not easy, and I can assure the House that they have maintained the high tradition of their profession.

Mr. Dodds

While thanking the right hon. and learned Gentleman for going as far as anybody could go at this stage, may I ask him whether, should there still be as many blunders in the next few months as there have been in the past, despite what has been done, he will consider a more thorough and independent inquiry?

Sir W. Monckton

I am keeping this matter constantly under review. I have not stopped examining cases and causes, and I shall not hesitate to take what action I think right, but I must say that in spite of all the publicity, the number of errors which could have been avoided are very small.

Colonel Gomme-Duncan

While appreciating the statement made by my right hon. and learned Friend, may I ask whether he considers that the case of Gordon Payne of Perth, who died a week after being passed Al, shows that some special need for investigation exists?

Sir W. Monckton

I find it very difficult to remember the details of each case. If the case to which my hon. and gallant Friend refers is that of a man who died of a haemorrhage within a week of being passed, I am informed that no medical examination would have foretold that disaster a week before.

Mr. W. Wells

Is the Minister aware that there have been some very bad cases from the Wolverhampton Board, and will he take steps to ensure that the chairmen of the boards are instructed that it is no part of their duty to find men for the Forces who are not fit for the Forces?

Sir W. Monckton

I must say at once that I have seen as much as most hon. Members of the working of the boards and that I have not found any disposition of that kind. If there are specific cases which can be brought to my attention, I will gladly look into them.

Mr. Gower

Does my right hon. and learned Friend recall that some time ago he assured me that medical boards would, in every case of reasonable doubt, refer to the previous medical history of the man concerned? Can he say whether that innovation has been successful?

Sir W. Monckton

I have pointed out in my main answer that one of the difficulties—and this is very much to the credit of some of these men—is that they are most anxious not to disclose something to prevent them doing service; but we are trying to ensure that the medical officers have a fair start by knowing the background.

Mr. Manuel

Though I fully appreciate what the Minister has said, may I ask him to recognise, as I am sure he will, that, from Scotland at any rate, men have been taken into the Forces who ought never to have gone? Is he aware that I have had two cases during the Recess which prove that, and can he inform the House of the average age of the members of the medical profession who send these boys into the Forces?

Sir W. Monckton

I cannot answer that question without notice. It would require a certain amount of study. Nobody is appointed in the ordinary way to start this business after the age of 70; but it would be a great mistake to assume that no medical gentleman over the age of 70 is capable of doing this work.

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