HC Deb 22 February 1954 vol 524 cc169-76

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Studholme.]

10.15 p.m.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

May I seek the attention of the House for a local problem— that of the Bearsted Memorial Hospital, which is situated in my constituency? It is the problem of a maternity hospital which has one floor built and which has been waiting for a number of years to be completed.

I am putting forward this problem as a matter of serious concern to the Jewish community. I will remind the House that the first consideration under Section 61 of the National Health Service Act is the preservation of associations of denominational hospitals. I pray that point in aid in pleading the cause of this hospital.

Let me state a few facts to the House. This maternity hospital had its humble beginnings in the East End of London as long ago as 1895. The maternity hospital and the midwifery training school, then comprising 12 beds, was opened in Underwood Street, in 1911. An infant welfare centre and an ante-natal clinic were added in later years. The maternity home was rebuilt and extended and the home was recognised as a hospital under the Companies Act in 1932.

By 1937, plans were prepared for a new building to be erected on a site which had been acquired in Lordship Road in the borough of Stoke Newington. Very considerable sums of money had been collected by the Jewish community. The family of Lord Bearsted, whose name the hospital bears, and many other Jewish families, contributed substantially, but a large amount was raised from the pennies subscribed by poor Jews in the East End of London.

There is no doubt that but for the war this hospital, which is one of the most splendid of its type, would have been completed from moneys which were thus made available by the Jewish community. In fact, the work was begun, but, of course, it had necessarily to be deferred because of the war. To fulfil the need meanwhile, premises were acquired at Hampton Court and an annex of 30 beds was opened there. It was not until October, 1945, that permission was given to enable part of the hospital to be erected. In the result, there is now the Bearsted Memorial Hospital in Lordship Road, Stoke Newington, with a temporarily restricted unit of 32 beds, opened in 1947, and an annex over 20 miles away, at Hampton Court.

The case which I present tonight, I hope for the sympathetic consideration of the Minister, is the right to complete the building of that Bearsted Hospital or, at the very least, to make provision for the building of another floor so that that hospital may serve the needs for which it was founded. I suggest that I have a very strong case, and I would put forward to the House the following reasons. I have already referred to Section 61 of the Act. It is recognised that special consideration should be given to the sectarian nature of a hospital. The Jewish ecclesiastical authorities are entitled to insist on their right to the provision of the maternity hospital accommodation which is required to serve the needs of the Jewish community.

This hospital was established by the Jewish community for the specific purpose of meeting the needs of patients who wished to observe strict dietary laws and who desired the atmosphere of an orthodox Jewish institution during the period of their confinement. Neither this purpose nor the special arrangement for Jewish holy days can be provided in a non-Jewish hospital. This is not a case of a hospital merely serving the needs of the immediate neighbourhood. It is not really a regional board matter at all. The Bearsted Memorial Hospital was established to serve orthodox Jewry throughout greater London and, in some cases, even further afield.

Now may I give some details. The number of patients dealt with is about 800 a year. Many applications for admission have to be rejected; in fact, doctors in many cases do not trouble to apply because of the lack of accommodation and the obvious fact that the patient will not be admitted. I submit that when we remember that the Act refers specifically to the special consideration to be given to the sectarian nature of a hospital, it is surely wrong that the Jewish community should be denied the right to a hospital built up from a source provided by the Jewish community itself and essential for the requirements of orthodox Jewry.

There is a second ground I put forward. I have said that at present there are two separate units, one in Stoke Newington and one at Hampton Court. The latter is administered more than 20 miles away from the one in Stoke Newington. I understand that a unit of 100 beds is the most economical for a maternity hospital. The work already completed at Stoke Newington includes heating facilities and steam supply for 100 beds. There are theatre, labour ward and kitchen facilities for this number and for the necessary staff. In fact, the building possesses the most modern equipment to be found in any maternity hospital in the country.

The completion of an additional floor, which would give a maximum of 68 beds, would mean a saving in maintenance costs of about £3,750 per annum on the total expenditure which is now being incurred in operating two separate units. Indeed, at present there is clearly a duplication in the provision of nurses, doctors, teaching staff, porters and kitchen staff. There is, furthermore, the difficulty which arises from the fact that the administration, the matron and the consulting staff have all to attend both at Stoke Newington and at Hampton Court. Of course, if the Stoke Newington building were completed, the Hampton Court annex could then be given up. That would mean in all probability that the latter would be taken over gladly by some local hospital authority.

There is a third point. The Bearsted Memorial Hospital is one of the best known maternity hospitals in the country. Until about 18 months ago it was a recognised training school for postgraduate medical training for the Royal College of Obstetricians. Now today, because of the small number of beds, that recognition has been withdrawn. There is little doubt that if the hospital were completed, or even if an additional floor were made, so that it had the 68 beds referred to, that recognition would be restored.

This obviously means a great deal in the provision of medical men of the proper status to act as house surgeons. But it does not stop there. The hospital is an examination centre for midwifery teaching and is a Part I training school for midwives, with recognition under Part II being sought. A minimum of 50 occupied obstetric beds is necessary for this, and, of course, that can only be achieved at the moment by the retention of the annex at Hampton Court. The further difficulty is that there is a real danger that the recognition of the hospital as a midwifery training school may be withdrawn by the Central Midwives Board. This, in fact, has been threatened, because there are at present only 32 beds at Stoke Newington.

These are matters which affect the teaching facilities. They mean that unless something is done there is a real danger that there will be a decline in the standard and the status of the hospital. This hospital was envisaged as one of a high standard to fulfil the requirements of the Jewish community. If medical men and nursing staff of the necessary standard cannot be attracted to it, it will be impossible to admit patients where there are complications and the purposes for which the hospital was founded will certainly not be fulfilled.

I apologise for the amount of detail I have given in dealing with this subject at length, but it is a matter of vital importance to the Jewish community as a whole. I earnestly beg the Minister, for the reasons that I have put forward, to give sympathetic consideration to the cause that I have pleaded. I ask the Minister, on grounds which I think fully justified, to see that this hospital is completed at the earliest possible moment.

10.28 p.m.

Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)

I intervene to support my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) in the excellent approach that he has made to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health on this subject. I have known this hospital for a quite considerable time. I knew it particularly when I was the Member for Whitechapel and St. George's. It had the highest reputation. You will remember, Mr. Speaker, that at that time we discussed maternal mortality and this hospital was pointed out as being one of the finest examples in the country of a hospital which gave the correct treatment which was so vital to avoid that mortality. I believe that at that time it had the lowest ratio of that serious trouble in the country.

I can assure the Minister that my hon. and learned Friend has in no way underestimated the value placed upon this hospital by the Jewish community. I happen to hold office on the Jewish Board of Deputies and I assure the Parliamentary Secretary that behind this appeal is the full and strong support of the Jewish community throughout the country. Not only from the point of view of the physical treatment at a hospital of this nature but from the psychological point of view it is highly essential that strictly orthodox Jewesses should have open to them the facilities of such a hospital to bring them most successfully through this type of experience in their lives. I hope that the fullest consideration will be given to the plea that has been made so eloquently by my hon. and learned Friend.

10.30 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Miss Patricia Hornsby-Smith)

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) for the manner in which he has raised this question. I know how very sincerely and strongly he feels about the matter. I must first make it clear that the hospital could have applied to remain independent, entirely outside the National Health Service, had it so desired, before the appointed day. It has been included in the Service and, therefore, it is not as easy as the hon. and learned Gentleman would like to imply to treat it differently from the many other priorities which we have to consider in the Health Service.

The hon. and learned Member referred to Section 61 of the Act, and I think he read more into it than is actually implied. The Section says that where a hospital is linked with a particular religious denomination, regard shall be had in the general administration of the hospital and in the making of appointments to the Hospital Management Committee to the preservation of the character and associations of the hospital. That, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, is most certainly done. There is, however, no application to extensions of any particular hospital to enable it to meet the requirements of one or other of the religious denominations.

The regional board have a difficult task, with less money at its disposal than it would like to have, in assessing the priorities in its administration. First, it is fair to look at the position regarding maternity beds in the area. Between 1st January and 31st October there were 750 admissions to the hospital with an average of 11.5 days' stay.

Not all mothers admitted to the hospital are of Jewish faith. Some 83 per cent, are of Jewish faith. Therefore, about 120 non-Jewish mothers have been accepted in the period. Further, the Hampton Court annex has dealt with only 1 per cent, of Jewish mothers in the same period. It must be acknowledged that this is probably the only Jewish maternity home of this type in the country, and, therefore, the strong feelings of the hon. Member that Jewish mothers should be enabled to have the particular surroundings of their faith and the dietary conditions of their faith are certainly not common throughout the country

It is true that if the board particularly required to provide this for a larger number of Jewish mothers than it could do so by making these beds exclusively available to Jewish mothers or using to a greater extent the beds available at Hampton Court for members of the Jewish faith.

Mr. Weitzman

Does not the hon. Lady recognise that it is impossible for a hospital anywhere to refuse admission to anyone if the need arises? Is this hospital to be penalised because it throws its doors open and allows people not of the Jewish faith to go there?

Miss Hornsby-Smith

If the hon. and learned Gentleman will allow me to continue my argument he will see that there is ample accommodation for maternity in his Division, which covers Shoreditch and Stoke Newington, where there are a much higher number of hospital maternity beds available than in almost any other area in the country. In fact the percentage of confinements taking place in the Division in hospital is 85 per cent.

The adequacy of the accommodation generally available is such that at the Hackney Hospital, where there are 80 beds for maternity cases, they do not even have to scrutinise, by reference to the needs for hospital confinement, the patients applying to them. Virtually almost any mother who asks for a hospital maternity bed can be admitted. Therefore, there is no acute shortage of maternity hospital beds in this area. With; all the many priorities imposed on the regional board— priorities in other fields of the hospital service including the out-patients' departments, the field of surgery, or medicine— which apply equally to the members of the Jewish or other faiths, and which serve all members of the community, I do not believe that it is unreasonable to recognise that the board cannot at this stage go forward with this project and allocate the necessary capital expenditure.

Here may I say that although I recognise that funds were collected before the take-over, they have gone into the general fund, and in assessing its priorities the regional board can only have regard to the moneys made available to it by the Exchequer through the Ministry for this purpose. Therefore, while I should like to re-affirm the undertaking given by my right hon. Friend on 25th July, 1952, that it is his intention to extend the hospital and at the same time, as a result of the extension, close the Hampton Court annexe, my right hon. Friend emphasises that it is a long-term project.

He further emphasises that he must uphold the greater priorities of the regional board at this time and that, beyond giving the assurance that he is prepared to extend the hospital at a future date, he does not feel that he can press the regional hospital board at this moment, when there is no shortage of maternity beds in the area, and when there are available at Hampton Court beds which could be used by members of the Jewish faith. In all the circumstances, my right hon. Friend does not feel that he could press for this extension at this moment, and can go no further than give the assurance which he has given to Lord Bearsted, who, it is recognised, has long been associated with this hospital.

I should also like to point out that the assurance was given without prejudice to the question of whether the terms of the trust placed an obligation on the Minister to carry out the original purpose by virtue of Section 7 (7) of the Act, which says that: …the Minister shall, in the case of any endowment transferred to him … under this section, secure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the objects of the endowmeat… are not prejudiced… I think hon. Members will agree that in the assurance which he has given my right hon. Friend has met the general wishes of those who subscribed to the hospital. I appreciate the interest of hon. Members in the matter, but I must ask them to take a broad view of the many priorities imposed in the Service: priorities under which members of different denominations equally share and equally need. Taking that broad view, there is certainly no area in London, and probably no area in the country, better served with maternity beds than this area.

In these circumstances, I am afraid that I can go no further than the assurance that the matter will be dealt with in the long-term programme already announced by my right hon. Friend.

Mr. Weitzman

May I ask the hon. Lady if she appreciates the point that it is no answer to my case to say that there is room for admission of maternity cases in adjoining hospitals? My point is that this is the only hospital of its kind with provision for fulfilling orthodox requirements and attending to Jewish mothers in the way that they desire.

Miss Hornsby-Smith

I appreciate the desire of the hon. and learned Member to press the matter in regard to his own constituency, but he will recognise that so far as the whole country is concerned, it is not the general policy of the National Health Service to deal with health on a sectarian basis.

While it is to the advantage of the hon. and learned Member's constituents that he has this hospital—probably the only one exclusively Jewish maternity hospital in the country—it would be quite wrong for my right hon. Friend to press the board to make special concessions in this case, which might equally be pressed and claimed by other denominations on other aspects of the Health Service, when there is no shortage of maternity accommodation in the area and there are other very urgent priorities in the region which equally serve all members of the community, including many of the hon. and learned Members Jewish constituents.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty Minutes to Eleven o' clock.