HC Deb 27 April 1959 vol 604 cc879-84
28. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Minister of Health if he is aware of the inadequate supplies of anti-poliomyelitis vaccine to certain cities; on what assessment he bases his allocation to counties, cities and towns; and what steps he is taking to ensure that adequate supplies are maintained for each such place.

32. Mr. W. R. Williams

asked the Minister of Health whether he is aware that the poliomyelitis vaccination clinic in Manchester is unable to meet the demand for vaccinations owing to vaccine shortage; and what steps he proposes to take to ensure that adequate supplies of vaccine are made available immediately.

33. Mr. Chetwynd

asked the Minister of Health whether he is satisfied that the supply and distribution of anti-poliomyelitis vaccine is adequate to meet the recent increased demand.

37. Mr. Janner

asked the Minister of Health whether he is aware that there was a sufficient quantity of polio vaccine available for the national needs; and what was the cause of the failure of an adequate supply in various districts.

38. Dr. Stross

asked the Minister of Health to what extent he is able to import all the Salk type of poliomyelitis vaccine that is needed to augment supplies of British made vaccine; what proportion of vaccine is imported compared with British vaccine; and how far all demands are being met.

43. Dr. Summerskill

asked the Minister of Health what was the reason for the recent maldistribution of poliomyelitis vaccine.

Mr. Walker-Smith

Vaccine is allocated on the basis of monthly requisitions from local health authorities, whose estimated needs for this month were delivered by the 4th April. A very welcome though belated rise occurred shortly after that date in the response from young people, of whom only one in twelve had registered for vaccination by the end of February. As, however, it came very suddenly and was unexpectedly steep, a considerable number of local health authorities had to ask urgently for additional supplies of vaccine. These requests have all been met, a million extra doses having been distributed. Further large supplies will be issued to meet the needs of May, including a million doses of imparted Salk and the vaccine available from British producers.

Mr. Hughes

Does the Minister realise that, owing to the failure of supplies by his Department, the anti-polio campaign in Aberdeen had to be stopped? Does he not agree that for large numbers of willing citizens to be deprived of this vaccine, a matter of life and death, is an admission of shocking failure on the part of the Government and on the part of private enterprise firms on which they rely? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman take steps to see that this does not occur again?

Mr. Walker-Smith

The hon. and learned Member is completely, catastrophically and characteristically wrong in almost everything he has said. There has been no maldistribution on the part of my Department at all. I have already pointed out that both the original requests and the supplementary requests have been met. As for any delays in delivering vaccine, these have been very slight. and those who have had to wait at all for vaccine could have been vaccinated months ago if they had registered when I asked them.

Mr. Williams

Despite the vehemence of the Minister's reply to my hon. and learned Friend, is it not a reflection on the right hon. and learned Gentleman's administration that so soon after his very powerful appeal to young people to come forward immediately to be vaccinated against polio, the supply of the vaccine completely broke down all over the country? That is the general aspect. On the particular aspect, may I ask whether supplies to the Manchester clinics are now adequate to meet not only the current requirements but also the estimated requirements arising from the Minister's own broadcast?

Mr. Walker-Smith

Yes, Sir. I repeat, in answer to the general part of the supplementary question, that there was no question of any wholesale breakdown in the country, and it is quite wrong for any hon. Member to make such a suggestion. What happened was that some local health authorities, instead of requiring a preliminary registration, vaccinated on demand at open clinics, first of all, in order to encourage young people to come forward and then in order to cope with those large numbers. In doing it on that basis, there were necessarily occasional local difficulties of supply.

Taking as an example Manchester, in which the hon. Member is particularly interested, those concerned notified their requirements of just over 35,000 doses. They then asked for more. They were sent a further 8,500 doses. They then asked for more yet again, all these being additional to their original notification. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."] They asked for another 20.000 last week, and those, or a large proportion of them, will be distributed this week.

Dr. Summerskill

Is the Minister aware that he has made a great mistake in adopting this attitude in the House? Is he aware that the six or seven Questions today from hon. Members representing different parts of the country—[An HON. MEMBER: "And Norway."]—represent the views of medical officers of health in the country? In view of the fact that the Minister read a statement, may I also read a statement which, I am sure, all hon. Members would like to hear?

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Minister made a statement because he was asked for one, but the function of the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) here is to ask a question and not to make a statement. I hope that she will do that. If she desires to make a speech on this subject, my advice to her is to raise the matter on the Motion for the Adjournment, when it can be done much more appropriately.

Dr. Summerskill

Is the Minister aware that last week Middlesex County Council told the doctors of Middlesex that promises made to it of supplies of poliomyelitis vaccine had not been fulfilled, that no further vaccine would be available until May, that the only way in which the authority could meet its present commitments was to refuse to give any third injection and that those people who were applying now could be given only one injection? I have copies of the letters. In view of these letters, how can the Minister tell us that there has been no administrative failure?

Mr. Walker-Smith

The right hon. Lady really has a remarkable faculty for getting herself into a muddle.

Dr. Summerskill

Here are copies of the letters. I put them on the Table for the right hon. and learned Gentleman.

Mr. Walker-Smith

Only one injection is ever given to start with, as the right hon. Lady ought to know. Then four or five weeks elapse before the second injection is given. I have already said that more vaccine is already going out this month. Although I am not on notice about Middlesex, I am quite certain that its demands, or supplementary demands, have been or are being met in the course of this week.

Dr. Summerskill

Does the Minister realise that these children were deprived of their third injection which would have given them full protection this summer? I pass the letters to the Minister, because in no circumstances would I make a wrong statement on this subject. The instructions were that the children who were ready for their third injection, which would give them full protection, were not to be given it but that that injection was to be given to new cases.

Mr. Walker-Smith

It is within the discretion of the particular local authority—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Of course it is. It is within the discretion of each local authority how it arranges its programme. It is obvious that if we get a sudden concentration of demand from young adults it is more difficult to give the third injections to the children at the same time. But I come back to the point that if there had been a higher registration earlier, it would have been easier for local health authorities and general practitioners to carry out the vaccination programme.

Dr. Stross

May I refer to Question No. 38, in which I asked what proportion of vaccine is imported compared with British vaccines? Can the Minister tell me if he has such figures? Is it not a fact that all our batches of British vaccine are carefully tested by the Medical Research Council? Can he say whether the imported vaccine is also tested by the Council and, if not, whether we accept the testing agencies in the United States? Will he give an assurance that we will always test vaccine, irrespective of the delay that it may sometimes cause?

Mr. Walker-Smith

In answer to the first part of the supplementary question, we have distributed 26¼ million doses of vaccine, of which 10¼ million have been British and 16 million have been imported. As for the second part of the supplementary question, in regard to testing, no vaccine is issued in this country which has not been tested and licensed for use in the country of origin. For a rather fuller statement, perhaps the hon. Member would be good enough to look again at the report of my speech on 1st May last year.

Mr. Chetwynd

As it took the tragic death of a very fine footballer to bring about this tremendous increase in demand, which has strained the resources of distribution, where Ministerial appeals failed in the past, will the Minister now consider appealing to prominent sportsmen in different fields to give their support to a national campaign and at the same time make sure that supplies of vaccine are available to meet the possible resulting demand?

Mr. Walker-Smith

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman. We were already engaged in concerting these appeals before the tragic event to which the hon. Member has referred took place. The supply of vaccine engages our attention and, where necessary, we supplement our British supplies with the importation of Salk vaccine.

Mr. Janner

In view of the answers that he has given, will the Minister explain how it came about that a firm in this country said that sufficient vaccine was available for all national purposes—was that at his instigation?—and that there had been some mess-up with regard to the distribution of vaccine? If that is correct, how does it happen that half a million doses of vaccine had to be imported very hurriedly from America? Was he aware of the necessity of this? In view of the campaign that he carried out, why was not he prepared for any contingency that might arise?

Mr. Walker-Smith

I understand that the firm to which the hon. Member refers has denied making the statement which he has just repeated. As for the importation of vaccine, if the hon. Member will look again at the report of my speech on 1st May last year, he will see that, following Medical Research Council's advice, we used British vaccine so far as possible as our first priority. We come to the imported vaccine only when we think that a supplement is required. There has been no difficlty about this either in regard to procurement or distribution, except in the strictly local context to which I have referred.

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