HC Deb 27 April 1976 vol 910 cc177-9
9. Mr. Costain

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will pay a visit to Folkestone in order to see hospital facilities there.

Mr. Ennals

I have no plans to do so at present, but will bear the suggestion in mind.

Mr. Costain

Does the Secretary of State recall that in his earlier political life he was Member for my neighbouring constituency and made several comments about the inadequacy of the health service? Is he aware that the proposal to modify the use of the Royal Victoria Hospital is causing a great deal of consternation and that a petition opposing the proposal and signed by 20,000 people was presented last week? Will he give an assurance that he will look personally at the matter before the proposal is implemented?

Mr. Ennals

I have followed the correspondence between the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Minister of State. The district management team discussion document explains certain proposals for a change in use of the hospital following the proposal for a new hospital at Ashford in 1978. It is intended that the Royal Victoria Hospital should continue to provide a service to the community. No proposal can be implemented without full consultation with the parties concerned, particularly with the community health council.

Mr. Aitken: Is

the Secretary of State aware that in some Kent coastal towns, particularly in my constituency, there is growing public concern that they are becoming dumping grounds for ex-mental patients who have been discharged from hospitals many hundreds of miles away? Will he consider establishing a licensing system to ensure that no one community has to bear an unfair burden of this problem?

Mr. Ennals

The hon. Gentleman's language is deplorable. He has said that there are dumping grounds for patients of psychiatric hospitals. Most people who are discharged from psychiatric hospitals are as fit as, if not fitter than, the hon. Gentleman. It is deplorable to make such allegations. My Department is supporting a campaign to be launched this week by MIND to encourage the population to co-operate in enabling people in psychiatric hospitals to be discharged and to live in the community as normal people. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would warmly support this initiative. If he does not, I am sure that most of his hon. Friends will. I totally reject his concept.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

The Minister has chosen to answer my hon. Friend by making a personal attack upon him. I appreciate that the right hon. Gentleman has been in his office for only a few days, but does he not realise that only a few weeks ago we had a debate, initiated by the Opposition, on the problems of the mentally sick, a debate in which there were frequent allegations from both sides of the House: that mental patients were being dumped? That is the word we all used, and to make an accusation against my hon. Friend is most unfair.

Mr. Ennals

The right hon. Gentleman must come off it. I do not claim to be an expert, but during the period when I was out of the House I worked for four years for the National Association for Mental Health. I visited mental hospitals throughout the country and communities helping to provide accommodation. I was not attacking the hon. Gentleman: I was attacking his language. I would do so again if at any time he gave that sort of interpretation of the proper and rightful discharge of patients from psychiatric hospitals.