HC Deb 25 April 1955 vol 540 cc610-2
41. Major Legge-Bourke

asked the Minister of Health how the total number of places which will be available for mental defectives in the East Anglian region, when schemes now in progress have been completed, will compare with the number available at the start of the National Health Service and at the end of 1951, respectively.

Mr. Iain Macleod

There were 1,149 places for mental defectives in East Anglia when the service began and 1,249 at the end of 1951. When building schemes now in progress have been completed, the figure will be 1,591 and there will be a further increase to 1,739 if current negotiations for the purchase of an existing property are successful.

Major Legge-Bourke

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this will be very good news to many parents who are extremely anxious? In the meantime, until this splendid work is completed, will my right hon. Friend see if there is anything that can be done to alleviate the financial burden placed on some parents who, in sheer desperation, are often put to expense they can ill afford in order to get private treatment for their children?

Mr. Macleod

I am afraid I could not give my hon. and gallant Friend any guarantee on that.

Mr. Edward Evans

While these figures will give some satisfaction to some people in East Anglia, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this problem is about the most acute in the whole area? Will he agree that, in comparison with other regional areas, the service is barely up to the standard required?

Mr. Macleod

Yes, it is not only acute in East Anglia but is one of the major worries for us all over the country. It has had very high priority in the capital investment programme for some years, and that policy will be continued.

43. Mr. Spearman

asked the Minister of Health how many homes for mentally defective children are included in his building programme; and if he will give an assurance that they will have sufficient priority to eliminate the long waiting list as the present delay in getting these children into homes is having a bad effect on the other children in the house and is a great strain on the parents.

Mr. Iain Macleod

Separate homes for mentally defective children are not normally provided, but building schemes approved for 1953–54 and subsequently include some 7,000 hospital beds for mental defectives generally. In formulating further building programmes, full regard will continue to be had to the needs to which my hon. Friend refers.

Mr. Spearman

Whilst thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask if he will give special consideration to those mentally defective children who, on the death of their parents, have nowhere to go? I believe that at present very few homes, even on payment, will accept those unfortunate children without very long delay.

Mr. Macleod

Yes, I will consider whether any more guidance can usefully be given there. One would expect in any case that normally the children to whom my hon. Friend refers in his Question would be found in the highest priority group for admission.

Mr. Chetwynd

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the Northern Region the waiting list has hardly been reduced over the last few years? What steps are being taken to reduce it?

Mr. Macleod

It has been reduced over the country from December, 1953, when it was 8,440, to December, 1954, when it was 7,000. As I have announced, 7,000 hospital beds are being built. We have, in fact, plans to cover the waiting list over the whole country, although I do not say that at the end of the period there will not still be places in which there is considerable difficulty.

Mrs. Braddock

In view of the fact that those new hospital beds will not be available for at least 18 months in some areas, will the right hon. Gentleman look at the position to see whether he can give local authorities temporary power to deal with very special cases where great difficulty is being encountered in the homes of mentally defective children? Local authorities might like to take some action in relation to the problem if authority could be given to act in a temporary capacity while waiting for the provision of new beds.

Mr. Macleod

I am not quite sure what temporary provision the hon. Lady has in mind. Perhaps she will let me know, and I will look into the question.

Mr. K. Robinson

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is not only new building that is required but additional nursing staff, of which the present acute shortage appears to be getting even worse? Will the right hon. Gentleman say what his Department is doing about that?

Mr. Macleod

I am afraid that is another question. It would take too long to reply to it in a supplementary answer.