HC Deb 14 April 1969 vol 781 cc804-6

Mr. Will Griffiths (by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on the current epidemic involving the death of 30 children from gastro-enteritis at Booth Hall and Monsall Hospitals, Manchester.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. Richard Crossman)

Yes, Sir. I would wish to express my sympathy with the bereaved parents. I am calling for a report from the Manchester Regional Hospital Board. On the information at present available, there is no evidence of a specific epidemic in Manchester. Gastro-enteritis in infancy may arise from a variety of causes.

Mr. Griffiths

I am sure the whole House will wish to join with the right hon. Gentleman in expressing sympathy to the bereaved parents. My colleagues and I from Manchester wish also to express our sympathy to the distinguished and dedicated staffs of the two hospitals concerned. In view of the public alarm in this matter, will my right hon. Friend consider instituting an inquiry other than that which he has called for from the regional hospital board, and could it not be a public inquiry?

Secondly, will he say why, when there was a similar outbreak on Tees-side at the end of 1967, his predecessor did not publish in full the findings of the subsequent inquiry?

Thirdly, may I ask whether at least some of those findings were circulated to the medical staffs of hospitals with specialised responsibilities such as those of Monsall and Booth Hall?

Mr. Crossman

I cannot answer the third of my hon. Friend's questions without prior notice. In reply to the first two questions, I would not plunge into saying that we ought to have a public inquiry because until I receive the report from the Manchester Hospital Board I shall not know whether there is an epidemic. A sudden outbreak of gastro-enteritis among small children leading to deaths may occur from time to time without specific cause. Laboratory studies in London and Manchester now suggest that a new variety of one of the many organisms that cause the disease might be responsible, but it is far too early to decide. I ask my hon. Friend to allow me to get the report before making up my mind.

Mr. Kitson

Will the Secretary of State give an assurance to the House that the report will be published? Is he aware that many people requested the publication of the Tees-side Report and feel that if that information had been available to other hospital authorities the problem of cross-drug resistance, which evidently caused this outbreak, might have been overcome? Will he set up a committee to see if an antibiotic can be found which does not involve trial and error in cases of transferable drug resistance, and will he recognise the importance of this serious problem?

Mr. Crossman

The hon. Gentleman is jumping to conclusions and assuming that we know the answer before it has been given. I doubt whether the setting up of a committee will achieve the discovery of this particular antibiotic, although obviously we would all be pleased if that were so. Before we decide that there is a common cause, in the sense of a particular virus, for the death of these 30 children, we must first have the report which will give the evidence.

Mr. Alfred Morris

My right hon. Friend will be aware that there is widespread concern in the city of Manchester about this grievous and tragic series of deaths. Is he aware that it will be thought to be unbelievable if the findings and recommendations of the Tees-side inquiry are not made available to other hospital authorities and in particular to the medical profession at hospitals such as Booth Hall and Monsall? Will he make a further statement on this as early as possible?

Mr. Crossman

I am prepared to get the precise information which the hon. Gentleman asks for and I will write to him immediately about the Tees-side report. I looked at the report this morning and I have been told by my medical experts that there is no evidence at present that it has direct relevance to Manchester.

Lord Balniel

The whole House will wish to express its distress at this tragedy in Manchester. May I repeat the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Kitson) and ask whether the report of the inquiry into the events in Manchester will be published?

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman reverse the decision of his predecessor and publish the Tees-side report?

Thirdly, may I ask whether, after the Tees-side outbreak, urgent research was undertaken into transferable drug resistance, which is thought to be the cause of the difficulties with antibiotics in coping with this outbreak?

Mr. Crossman

Research is now going on. I will make a further and more detailed study of the extent and coverage of the research on publication. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am in favour of publication unless there is an overwhelming reason against it, and, unless there is some overwhelming reason, I see no reason why I should not publish the report of the hospital board.

Lord Balniel

Will the right hon. Gentleman answer my second question? Will he reverse the decision of his predecessor and publish the report on the Tees-side outbreak?

Mr. Crossman

I would like further consideration before I decide to do this. There may be a good reason why it was not published.

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