HC Deb 22 March 1955 vol 538 cc1877-80
Commander Galbraith

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement in reply to Questions Nos. 9 and 24.

When this scheme began in June, 1951, the total Scottish waiting list for hospital treatment for respiratory tuberculosis, which had reached a peak of over 3,000 in June, 1949, had stood at over 2,000 for five years. Over 900 patients have gone to Switzerland under the scheme, which has thus provided a valuable supplement to our hospital resources at a time when they have been under extreme pressure.

During the last 12 months the total waiting list has fallen steeply from just under 2,000 to around 500. This is mainly the result of the greater effectiveness of modern methods of treatment and the more efficient use of the beds and other resources in Scotland, matters on which the doctors and the various authorities concerned are to be congratulated. We are thus now able to make prompt and suitable provision in Scotland for a much larger proportion of those patients who need the kind of care that the Swiss scheme offers, and chest physicians are finding it extremely difficult to fill the beds in Switzerland available to us. Patients for the scheme are now coming forward from four areas only—Glasgow, Renfrewshire, Dunbartonshire and Stirlingshire.

In consequence of this, it is clear that we cannot usefully send any more patients to the Sanatorium Wolfgang, where we have had the use of 70 beds. This decision is being conveyed to the authorities at the sanatorium, to whom and to whose staff our thanks and the thanks of Scottish patients are due for their co-operation. My right hon. Friend contemplates that most, if not all, of the patients now in that sanatorium will remain there until the time when they would have come back to Scotland in the ordinary course.

For the present we are continuing to send patients to the Sanatorium du Mont Blanc, where we have the use of 120 beds, which will be sufficient to accommodate all the patients coming forward under the scheme.

Mr. Rankin

On a point of order. We are listening to a statement of great importance to the people of Scotland, and I hope we shall have quietness in the rest of the House.

Mr. Speaker

I could hear quite well, but I ask hon. Members to moderate their conversation.

Commander Galbraith

But the House will appreciate that the maintenance of arrangements for treatment in Switzerland is not an end in itself, and if present trends continue the time may not be far distant when it will be possible, without prejudice to the treatment of Scottish patients, to reduce still further the scale of these arrangements and eventually to terminate them altogether.

Miss Herbison

I am sure that the whole of Scotland will be delighted to hear the figures which the Minister has given, but is he aware that there will be great disappointment in Scotland at the announcement about giving up the use of one of the sanatoria which we have been using, particularly as 400 patients are on the waiting list? Surely the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will give some reconsideration to this decision, and not give up the use of that sanatorium until the waiting list is very much smaller.

Commander Galbraith

I thought the hon. Lady would appreciate that there will be great rejoicing about the fact that the waiting list is now so low that we can find other accommodation for the patients.

Major Anstruther-Gray

Arising out of the original reply, while thanking the Minister for the generally satisfactory figures, may I ask him whether we can take it that in special cases, in which treatment in Switzerland is particularly desirable, that treatment will be open to patients, in spite of what he said?

Commander Galbraith

My hon. and gallant Friend will recollect that I informed the House that we were retaining certain beds in Switzerland—in fact, 120.

Mr. Woodburn

Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that there is an even more important lesson to be drawn from this—that the prompt steps taken when it was discovered that the incidence of Scottish tuberculosis was so bad have evidently yielded results? Will this encourage the Government to continue with the provision of special housing so as to arrange segregation of the patients and enable the incidence of the disease to be reduced?

Commander Galbraith

The right hon. Gentleman knows that my right hon. Friend does everything he can in that direction.

Mrs. Mann

Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that I have just returned from visiting the Mont Blanc sanatorium? Is he aware that his announcement will cause great dismay amongst the 120 patients who are receiving excellent treatment there? Is he aware that treatment at the Mont Blanc sanatorium includes thorax operations and that we have had many questions about the long waiting period experienced in Scotland by patients for chest operations, whereas the operations can be done easily at the Belvedere private sanatorium attached to the Mont Blanc sanatorium?

Commander Galbraith

I do not think the hon. Lady heard what I said. I said that we are continuing to send patients to the Sanatorium du Mont Blanc.

Miss Herbison

On a point of order. I wish to give notice that, since this matter is of such importance to Scotland, I will raise it on the Adjournment at the first opportunity.