HC Deb 26 February 1968 vol 759 cc945-7
Sir J. Langford-Holt (by Private Notice)

asked the Minister of Health whether he will make a statement on the fire at Shelton Hospital, Shrewsbury.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Kenneth Robinson)

I deeply regret that 21 patients lost their lives in a fire at Shelton Hospital, Shrewsbury, last night. I have had a preliminary report from the Birmingham Regional Hospital Board which indicates that the fire started at about midnight on the first floor of a two-storey building which accommodates women psychiatric patients. Forty-two patients were sleeping on this floor at the time; they were mainly elderly and some were bed-ridden. Twenty-one of these patients have died and 14 are being treated at the Royal Salop Infirmary. Of these one is critically ill, one is seriously ill and 12 are suffering from shock and minor burns and are under observation. The ground floor was undamaged by the fire and the 56 patients sleeping there were unharmed. I have asked the Chairman of the regional hospital board to convey my sympathy to the relatives of those who have died and to those who have been injured.

An inquiry will be held into this tragic occurrence and I am in consultation with the regional hospital board as to the form it should take.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that statement. He will know that this hospital was constructed 14 years before the Indian Mutiny, and this probably goes right to the heart of the problem. Will he be holding any inquiry to consider whether this opportunity might not be taken for a drastic review, not only of the buildings of this hospital but of other mental hospitals throughout the country?

Mr. Robinson

The House will know that we have a large number of old mental hospitals, but the fire precautions at this hospital were approved by the fire authority.

Mr. Moonman

May I also offer my sympathies to the relatives of those who have died in the fire? In view of the difficulties involved in maintaining safety and attracting staff to old buildings, would the Minister make details available to the House, giving the staff-patient ratio in this hospital, as well as a full statement of staff-patient ratios in other hospitals? Will he also say where hospitals are more than 80 or 100 years old?

Mr. Robinson

I would be very glad if my hon. Friend would put down one or more Questions on this subject, to let him have the information that I possess.

Mr. Dean

We on this side of the House would wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy which the Minister has expressed to those concerned and for those who have lost their lives in this tragic accident. May I ask the Minister two questions? He said that there would be an inquiry. Can he say whether the findings will be published and, secondly, in view of this tragic accident, will he ask all hospitals to review their fire precautions, particularly those hospitals where there are old people as inmates?

Mr. Robinson

On the second point, I will see what recent instructions have been given on this matter and, if further instructions are called for, I will see that they are issued. I would think that the findings of the inquiry will almost certainly be published, but I would just like, formally, to reserve my position until I receive the report.

Mr. Victor Yates

May I ask my right hon. Friend if he is aware that for some years past there has been criticism of the dangerous condition of this particular hospital? Will he look into this to see why such a building is not changed, in the interests of other hospitals, some of which are in a very dangerous condition?

Mr. Robinson

I was not aware of what my hon. Friend has alleged, and it seems to conflict with the statement that I have just made to the House about the fire precautions at the hospital being approved by the fire authority. I will be very glad to look into any information or evidence that my hon. Friend would care to put forward.

Mr. More

As one who has served for six years on the management committee of this hospital, may I ask the Minister whether he has had proposals for the replacement or rebuilding of the hospital, a matter upon which we regularly failed to get any satisfaction from the Birmingham Regional Hospital Board?

Mr. Robinson

As the hon. Gentleman implies in his question, this is a matter for the regional hospital board, which has very large calls upon the resources that I am able to make available to it.

Mrs. Lena Jeger

While not expecting my right hon. Friend to anticipate the findings of the inquiry, is he aware that there is great public dismay because of a report that this ward was locked and that there was no attendant on duty? If that was the case, will he ask his hospitals not to follow what may be a very dangerous practice?

Mr. Robinson

My information is that this was the only locked ward in the hospital, and I am inquiring into this aspect. Contrary to what my hon. Friend has alleged in the second part of her supplementary question, I understand that this ward was not without an attendant.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. Mr. Diamond, statement.