HC Deb 09 July 1968 vol 768 cc213-6

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

51. Mr. ROEBUCK to ask the Minister of Health whether he will make a further statement on the progress of the inquiries into the allegations of ill-treatment of elderly patients in hospital; and when he expects to announce the results.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Kenneth Robinson)

All six committees of inquiry have now made their reports, and their findings and recommendations are published today in a Command Paper which is available in the Vote Office.

These independent committees of inquiry find most of the allegations in "Sans Everything" to be totally unfounded or grossly exaggerated. They make some criticisms of present conditions in the hospitals and suggest how they might be improved, but, in general, they report very favourably on the standard of care provided.

I deeply regret the anxieties which have been caused to patients and their relatives, to hospital staff and to the public generally by the publication, which I believe the whole House will deplore. of so many allegations which are now authoritatively discredited.

Mr. Roebuck

The results of those inquiries will be received with relief by all who have been caused a great deal of anxiety as a result of the publication of the book, "Sans Everything". Would not a great deal of time, distress and public money have been saved if those who made what are now known to be wild and irresponsible allegations had made their complaint in a proper manner, naming names and giving times, dates and places?

Can my right hon. Friend say how much the inquiries have cost the taxpayer, and what co-operation those conducting the inquiries received from those who made the unfounded allegations?

Mr. Robinson

Without notice, I cannot say what the aggregate cost of the inquiries was, but it was not inconsiderable.

I very much agree with what my hon. Friend said in the first part of his supplementary question. Those who produced and published the book were aware, long before publication, that I was very willing and ready to investigate thoroughly any allegations of ill-treatment which they might care to make. I regret to say that, in general, the committees did not have a great deal of co-operation from the authors of the book,

Mr. Dean

We are extremely glad to hear that most of the allegations have proved to be unfounded, and wish to pay a tribute to the staffs of the hospitals, who have worked in very difficult conditions while the inquiries have been going on.

The right hon. Gentleman has said that most of the allegations are unfounded. Presumably, that means that one or two are founded. Will he reconsider the proposal for an inspectorate, which would ensure that minimum standards are maintained and that good practices in one hospital are speedily passed on to others?

Mr. Robinson

I have an open mind on the question of an inspectorate. This is, perhaps, one of the matters which might be considered in the discussion and consideration of the Green Paper on future structure, which is shortly to be published.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he said about the staffs at the hospitals, which I endorse, as the whole House does. It is true that one or two isolated incidents of ill-treatment were found. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman and the whole House read the White Paper in order to get the matter fully in perspective.

Mr. Pavitt

I join the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) in paying tribute to the staff, who have been working in very difficult circumstances. Will my right hon. Friend take it from me, as a member of the regional hospital board covering one of the areas concerned, that we are extremely glad that the charges have been found to be completely unfounded?

Will my right hon. Friend do something in regard to the Press to stop the sensational anti-National Health Service stories which gain far too much credence and cause so much distress to staff and patients alike?

Mr. Robinson

I can only say that I wish I could.

Mr. Bessell

I am most grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's statement and, in particular, for the terms in which it was couched. Will the right hon. Gentle- man agree that the staff at the St. Lawrence's Hospital—medical and nursing staff—are to be congratulated on the way in which they conducted themselves during the inquiry?

Mr. Robinson

Yes, Sir, but a similar tribute should be paid to the staff of the other five hospitals involved.

Dr. Summerskill

What steps does my right hon. Friend feel he can take to prevent publication of another similar book or the publication of exaggerated stories of this kind which could take place on radio or television, giving a distorted impression to the public of conditions in hospitals?

Mr. Robinson

My hon. Friend will appreciate, as we all do, that the existence of free speech allows for the abuse of free speech. I think that the publication of the White Paper should discourage anyone from making at least ill-founded and irresponsible allegations in future.

Mr. Hazell

Although I appreciate that the allegations had to be investigated, as vice-chairman of one of the regional hospital boards affected I know the tremendous strain on the administrative staff which the investigations caused. Will my right hon. Friend convey to the hospital areas concerned the appreciation of the House for the co-operation given?

Mr. Robinson

Yes, Sir, gladly. I appreciate the factors mentioned by my hon. Friend. He will appreciate, equally, that I had no option but thoroughly to investigate these allegations.