HC Deb 15 December 1982 vol 34 cc269-70
3. Mr. Foulkes

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what action he proposes to take to minimise the risks to elderly and disabled people from hypothermia and cold-related illnesses in the coming winter.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. John MacKay)

My Department intends to keep closely in touch with local authorities and health boards throughout the winter. I am confident that these authorities will do all they can to combat the risks to the elderly of hypothermia.

Mr. Foulkes

That is a pathetic answer. Is the Minister aware that nearly 10,000 Scots will die of hypothermia and cold-related diseases this winter? Why has he cut the money to the Scottish health education group so that it can no longer produce valuable heating packs? Why has he abandoned the "good neighbour" scheme introduced by the late Frank McElhone? Is it the Government's policy to let these old people die of starvation?

Mr. MacKay

The hon. Gentleman does nothing for his case by gross overstatement of the figures. They are absurdly overstated. The Scottish health education group has run campaigns and will do so again this winter. On 9 December a television programme called "Bodyline" drew attention to the need to keep warm this winter. Reference was made to the availability of written material from a distribution centre giving advice to organisations and people who seek it.

Mr. Ancram

Apart from direct action, will my hon. Friend consider issuing a statement reminding citizens that it is their moral duty to keep an eye on their neighbours and to ensure, so far as possible, that they do not suffer or die alone or unnoticed? Does he agree that the phrase "the caring society" refers not only to Government institutions, but to the population at large?

Mr. MacKay

My hon. Friend is right. It is important that all people should be aware of their obligations towards their elderly neighbours. One of the main dangers is that elderly people who become ill or suffer injury are left alone for longer than they should be. It is therefore important that neighbours should keep an eye on their elderly friends and relatives.

Mr. O'Neill

Does the Minister agree that there is considerable information to the effect that the figures quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) are correct and that the Government are cutting the amount of money available to help the elderly to avoid the worst excesses of a bad winter? Is it not a national scandal that old people are being treated in this manner by a heartless Government?

Mr. MacKay

I am sorry to hear the hon. Gentleman repeating the nonsense uttered by his hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes). I must inform both hon. Gentlemen that in 1981, 193 death certificates gave hypothermia as the primary or secondary cause of death among those aged 65 or over. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) does not realise how strong his voice is. He must try to control himself and allow others to have a chance.

Mr. MacKay

These figures do not differentiate between hypothermia due to inadequate heating and hypothermia from exposure following illness or alcoholic intoxication. The figures given by both hon. Gentlemen are at variance with the facts.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Will my hon. Friend confirm that assistance is being given to those suffering from senile dementia, a considerable number of whom may be at risk from hypothermia? Will he also confirm that everything possible is done to ensure that a ticket to hospital is not a one-way ticket for those concerned?

Mr. MacKay

My hon. Friend is right to highlight the circumstances of elderly people who may suffer some degree of confusion. This underlines the point that I have already made in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram). It is important that people should have regard for their elderly neighbours during the cold weather and at other times of the year.