HC Deb 11 December 1979 vol 975 cc1060-1
10 . Mr. Ioan Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will permit certification of pneumoconiosis for disability pension purposes by two general practitioners.

Mr. Prentice

No, Sir. The diagnosis of pneumoconiosis requires special skill in the reading of radiographs and interpreting the results of clinical examination and lung function tests which pneumoconiosis medical panel doctors have acquired, together with specialist knowledge of the disease in all its forms, through dealing with thousands of cases every year. General practitioners do not have this special training or experience in industrial chest diseases.

Mr. Evans

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that in the mining valleys of Wales there is deep distress that the pneumoconiosis medical tribunals are turning down many more applicants than before? About 70 per cent. are rejected, compared with 30 per cent. previously. Will the right hon. Gentleman take seriously what was put to him by the deputation that came to see him? Will he review the matter and take a more sympathetic attitude to those suffering from pneumoconiosis?

Mr. Prentice

I listened carefully to the deputation, but my confidence in the professional ability and integrity of the doctors who serve on the panels is not shaken in any way. Fewer claims are now succeeding because safety precautions have improved in coal mining and other industries which involve a risk of dust disease. Fewer miners are therefore contracting the disease. I should have thought that that would be welcome news to us all.

Mr. Ashley

If the diagnosis of pneumoconiosis requires specialist skill and knowledge, as the Minister claims, why are some panels staffed by junior doctors, some of whom need refresher courses in chest medicine? Why do no people with full-time consultant status serve on the panels? Will the Minister accept the suggestion that there should be one doctor and one full-time consultant on each panel?

Mr. Prentice

No, Sir, I shall not. Ever since the industrial injuries scheme was founded in 1948 claims for benefit for industrial accidents or industrial diseases have been decided by properly appointed adjudicating panels. That system has stood the test of time. The right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) does not come up to his usual standards when he makes attacks against professional people, who give good service to the community and who are not in a position to answer him back.

Mr. Burden

Has any advance been made in the diagnosis of asbestosis during the life of the patient? Is my right hon. Friend aware that this disease is as debilitating as pneumoconiosis and that it is difficult to diagnose until after death?

Mr. Prentice

I need notice of that question. If my hon. Friend tables another question or writes to me on the matter I shall answer him.