HC Deb 03 March 1958 vol 583 cc818-20
25. Mr. Dodds

asked the Minister of Health, in view of the fact that the survey in 1954 revealed that about 10,000 of the elderly patients in mental hospitals could be discharged if accommodation was available in old people's homes or chronic sick hospitals, what action has since been taken to supply this need; and in how many cases the changeover was made effective.

Mr. Walker-Smith

The figure to which the hon. Member refers was an estimate based on a sample inquiry; and it was not suggested that any large number of patients could be discharged, but rather that future admissions should be redirected or discharged earlier. Various developments of local authority and hospital services have been in progress to facilitate this; for example, in England and Wales since 1954 the number of places in old people's homes has increased by some 10,000, and that of available hospital beds for the chronic sick by 1,750.

Mr. Dodds

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that expert evidence before the Royal Commission indicated that large numbers of old people were being certified and sent to mental hospitals solely because this country has not provided suitable alternative accommodation for them? If the right hon. Gentleman has any doubts, will he arrange for another survey to be taken so that we may know what the position is up to date?

Mr. Walker-Smith

The survey referred to in the hon. Gentleman's Question was the survey to which I have referred, and the inferences from which were described in the Chief Medical Officer's Report for 1954. A substantial number of elderly mental patients are, in fact, discharged from mental hospitals, and there has been a considerable increase in the hospital beds available for the chronic sick, including beds in psychiatric long-stay annexes.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that it is urgently necessary that he should give some indication to the local authorities of what extra financial provision he is going to make to help them to provide the accommodation which we all agree is needed in our local authority areas? Is it not time that he made some statement, especially as the Local Government Bill is going through Committee?

Mr. Walker-Smith

Yes, but not before discussions with the local authority associations on this point.

Mrs. Braddock

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the fact is that these people need hospital accommodation? Is he further aware that they are certified because there is no proper aged persons' hospital accommodation? The matter is not settled by having homes for them to go into; it is settled by not certifying these people. Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider the recommendation of the Royal Commission, in lieu of legislation, that some parts of mental hospitals should be de-designated in order that they could be treated as ordinary hospitals for elderly people, so doing away with this awful stigma of certification?

Mr. Walker-Smith

As the hon. Lady knows, I am reviewing all possible action which is open to me, on an administrative basis, prior to the introduction of legislation.

Mr. J. Eden

Will my right hon. and learned Friend, in conjunction with his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government, encourage so far as he can the development of special housing accommodation for these elderly people, the majority of whom are not at all anxious to spend their days of retirement in homes or mental hospitals but wish to stay in their own quarters with some kind of home help, if possible?

Mr. Walker-Smith

I appreciate the point made by my hon. Friend. He will recall that we had a full and, I think, interesting debate on these questions in November last.