HC Deb 09 March 1959 vol 601 cc879-81
45 and 46. Sir F. Medlicott

asked the Minister of Health (1) if his attention has been drawn to a recent case in which an anaesthetist involved in a fatal operation admitted at his trial that he had been addicted for seven years to inhaling anaesthetic drugs; and if he will hold an inquiry into the circumstances under which such a tendency could have been unnoticed by the hospital staffs with whom the anaesthetist had been working over this long period; and

(2) if his attention has been drawn to the practice of some anaesthetists of testing anaesthetic gases by inhalation; and what inquiries he proposes to make into the extent of this practice and its effects on the capacity of anaesthetists to perform their professional duties.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Derek Walker-Smith)

I have studied with concern the proceedings in the case to which my hon. Friend refers and am making further inquiries.

I understand that many anaesthetists inhale small quantities of anaesthetic gases before administering them and that they consider this a desirable precaution in the interests of their patients. I have asked the Committee on Drugs of Addiction, under the chairmanship of Sir Russell Brain, to consider whether any special measures are required in the light of this case.

Sir F. Medlicott

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that there is a feeling in some quarters that medical people are reluctant to testify against each other in matters of error or negligence and that the careful inquiries which he is instigating will possibly afford some reassurance on this very grave matter?

Mr. Walker-Smith

I am making inquiries to seek information about the reports said to have been made in the case to which my hon. Friend refers. In the light of that information, I shall consider the general position further.

Dr. Summerskill

Will the Minister take into account that in the hospital where this tragic case occurred there was no medical administrator, and that although there was a medical committee with a chairman, none of the consultants on this committee was prepared to condemn one of his colleagues? Here is an example of the necessity to follow the Bradbeer recommendation, to the effect that a medical administrator, who should have overall authority to take action in a case such as this, should be in charge.

Mr. Walker-Smith

That is one consideration to be borne in mind, although the matter goes a good deal wider than the point under reference. The question about transmission of information raises certain points of medical ethics which I may wish to discuss further with the profession.

Mr. H. Morrison

As it would appear from the proceedings of the trial that it was known by some of his medical colleagues that this doctor was addicted to this kind of thing, will the Minister ascertain why that was not conveyed, if it was not conveyed, to the hospital board, and if it was conveyed why the hospital board did not take action about it?

Mr. Walker-Smith

I said in answer to my hon. Friend that I am going further into the question about the extent of the knowledge which was referred to at the trial, although, as I say, on the general position it may be that certain questions of medical ethics arise which require further discussion with the profession.