HC Deb 14 July 1958 vol 591 cc806-9
28. Mr. Owen

asked the Minister of Health if he is aware that the payment of a specialist fee by mineworkers in the Ashington area of Northumberland determines the speed of the treatment needed; and whether he will examine this matter and make a statement.

29. Mr. Owen

asked the Minister of Health if he is aware that mineworkers scheduled for specialist advice, medical treatment, or surgical treatment under the National Health Service, are subject to unusually long waiting periods, within the Ashington area of the County of Northumberland; and whether he will examine this problem and make a statement.

Mr. Walker-Smith

I am aware that waiting periods for treatment at the Ashington Hospital are sometimes long and the facilities there are to be extended. I am not quite sure what the hon. Member has in mind regarding specialists' fees; there are no pay beds in this hospital.

Mr. Owen

The problem that at this moment really concerns my constituents may not directly apply to the Ashington Hospital but to the Northern Regional Hospital Board. Is the Minister aware that two brothers have waited for nine weeks to secure an appointment for the diagnosis of their problem? One brother elected to pay £3 specialist fees and secured an appointment in four days, but the other brother continues to wait. Will the Minister be good enough to look into this matter and let the House have the result of his findings?

Mr. Walker-Smith

In view of what the hon. Gentleman alleges, I think he had better send me particulars of the case he has in mind. I will certainly look into it.

Mr. Popplewell

Is the Minister aware that this is taking place quite a lot in the North? Only last Saturday a constituent of mine—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question was a question, but the second part looks like being a speech.

Mr. Popplewell

No. Far from it being a speech, I shall give the Minister certain particulars.

Mr. Speaker

Giving particulars is not a proper exercise at Question Time. The hon. Gentleman should either write to the Minister or put his question in an interrogative form.

Mr. Popplewell

Is the Minister aware that a miner of North Walbottle pit has been waiting eighteen weeks for an operation for double hernia and he has been told that it will be at least another six weeks before he can be considered for an operation? However, he paid three guineas to a specialist and was told that he could be taken in at once and an operation performed immediately. Will the Minister look at such cases if I send them to him?

Mr. Walker-Smith

I will certainly look at any case the hon. Gentleman or his hon. Friend likes to send me.

Dr. Summerskill

There may be a point here which concerns Privilege. A Question has been put to the Minister about the action of a consultant. It has been said that one of two brothers went to a consultant and paid three guineas, in consequence of which he was given a bed in four days, but the other brother, who simply went to hospital and did not make a payment, has had to wait many weeks.

The Minister, in answer, says to my hon. Friend that if he will write to him giving him all the details he will carefully consider the matter. If my hon. Friend writes to the Minister he must give the name of the physician, and by giving the name of the physician and the details it will suggest that this physician has been guilty of improper practice. Therefore, I should like your guidance on this matter, Mr. Speaker. In order to defend my hon. Friend from heavy damages, may I ask you whether he should respond to the Minister's request and send the letter, which might mean defaming the consultant?

Mr. Speaker

That is not a question for me. It is entirely hypothetical. I do not know the circumstances. This matter started with a Question in Parliament of which an hon. Member has given notice. I think it is an entirely different thing from the matter we were discussing the other day.

Mr. Paget

May we take it then, Mr. Speaker, that your Ruling is that if a letter is sent in response to a suggestion of the Minister, in your view it thereby becomes a proceeding in Parliament?

Mr. Speaker

I am merely stating that to my mind, and I think to most hon. Members' minds, a matter which arises from a Question on the Order Paper in Parliament stands in a different position from a matter such as we were discussing the other day as regards being a proceeding in Parliament. There is no doubt that this Question is a proceeding in Parliament.

Mr. Bevan

Would it not be undesirable that there should be the slightest confusion about this matter? Is not the Minister of Health directly responsible to Parliament for the administration of the whole National Health Service, and is not that therefore a proceeding within Parliament?

Mr. Speaker

That raises wider issues. I was merely drawing attention to the fact that the first I heard or saw of this matter was when it was raised in the Question, which is a quite different position from the letter we were discussing the other day. I express no opinion about that matter. That is a matter of opinion, and was one for the House.

Mrs. Castle

On a point of order. From the Ruling you have just given, Mr. Speaker, it would appear that if hon. Members have any case that might seem to involve an innuendo against any individual they should first table a Question to give themselves a legal safeguard and then send the matter to the Minister. Would you advise us of what we are to do during the three months of the Parliamentary Recess?

Mr. Speaker

That matter goes very wide of the question at the moment. There is to be a discussion of the whole of this matter shortly between myself and the Leader of the House, and I hope that some concrete proposals will come before the House.

34. Mr. Blenkinsop

asked the Minister of Health the total number of full-time and part-time specialists, respectively, employed in the National Health Service at the latest available date and twelve months previously.

Mr. Walker-Smith

The available figures for whole-time consultants and senior hospital medical officers are 3,170 on 30th June, 1956, and 3,192 on 30th September, 1957. The corresponding figures for part-time are 5,708 and 5,813.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman do all he can to avoid any special preference being given, in effect, to part-time appointments, in view of the importance of encouraging the development of full-time appointments?

Mr. Walker-Smith

I will have that in mind, but I am sure that in this context the hon. Member has in mind the provisions of Section 12 of the National Health Service (Amendment) Act, 1949.

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