HC Deb 25 July 1955 vol 544 cc817-8
40. Mr. Sorensen

asked the Minister of Health approximately how many mentally defective children were admitted into appropriate institutions in 1954; how many are now awaiting admission; what are the proposals or plans for increasing accommodation for mental defectives; to what extent there is a shortage of nursing and other staff; and what is the estimated number of mentally defective or retarded children who are daily attending from their homes special schools or institutions.

Mr. Iain Macleod

Figures in age groups for 1954 are not yet available, but the number of children admitted in 1953 was 1,311. Children awaiting admission at the end of 1954 totalled 3,475, of whom 2,086 were urgent cases. Plans for more hospital beds so far approved include some 7,000 beds for mental defectives of all ages. There is an estimated shortage of approximately 2,000 nurses and some 70 doctors. At the end of 1954 7,150 mentally defective children were attending occupation and industrial centres daily from their homes, and I understand that 15,635 educationally subnormal children were attending special schools as day pupils.

Mr. Sorensen

Is the Minister aware, in view of these still serious figures, that a very great burden rests on many families, causing sometimes tragic conditions in the home? What is he doing to expedite the supply of both nurses and hospitals for this unfortunate type of patient? Might I also ask him what has been done particularly in regard to the special schools mentioned in the latter part of my Question? Has any attention been paid to that?

Mr. Macleod

The query about the special schools should more appropriately be put down to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education. As far as the first part of the Question is concerned, we are concentrating deliberately on this shortage which is most serious in the whole of the field of the National Health Service, and all our publicity drives and the new campaign we are having this autumn will be particularly directed towards the mental field.

Mr. Nicholson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are many cases of children whose removal to some home or institution is urgently desirable from every point of view, but that there is no vacancy for them and the parents very often cannot afford to pay to go to a private institution? Is there any provision for financial help for these people while such children are awaiting a vacancy?

Mr. Macleod

I think the best method of dealing with the case which my hon. Friend has in mind is for the local authority to use the powers given under the circular to arrange short-term care for the child so as to enable the mother to go on holiday and have a rest, thus relieving the burden of the waiting period until a place can be found for the child.