HL Deb 20 March 1890 vol 342 cc1230-4

My Lords, I desire to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are in possession of information regarding the most recent means adopted in our colonies and foreign countries for the transport by ambulance of civilian sick and injured; and, if not, whether they will cause instructions to be issued to the representatives of Her Majesty, directing them to furnish Reports on the subject, to be laid before Parliament. My object in asking this question is to draw your Lordships' attention in this House, and the attention of the public generally, to the fact that in this country we have no organised system of transport for civilian sick, wounded, and injured. Having lately visited the United States of America I found in even third and fourth-rate towns that arrangements for that purpose are made which should put to the blush the authorities of some of our largest towns. I may mention, as an illustration, that the other day a friend of mine had a servant who met with a serious accident, and it was found impossible to obtain an ambulance to take the servant to an hospital. This occurred in Paddington, and we were told that the nearest place where an ambulance could be got was Clerkenwell, and that even then it would be necesssary to pay for the transport of the individual. Now, I do not think anyone can say that is a satisfactory state of things in regard to the transport of injured, persons in a Metropolis of this size, containing very nearly 5,000,000 inhabitants. Some 10 years ago H.R.H. the Duke of Cambridge made a most laudable effort to establish some kind of system of ambulance work in the Metropolis, similar to that which I saw in operation in America; and although no actual result can be shown for that work, I still think that that effort was not entirely lost, inasmuch as if, turned public attention to the want of transport in London, and it perhaps led in no small measure to the formation of the ambulance branch of the St. John's Society, of which H.R.H. the Prince of Wales is the active President. Colonel Duncan, MP., has been a great loss for many reasons to this Metropolis, but more especially perhaps in regard to the work which he carried on during his lifetime in the establishment of ambulances. We owe it to him in a great measure that we have anything at all in the shape of ambulances in London; and both before and since his death we have owed a great debt of gratitude to Mr. Furley, who is the acting director of the Ambulance Department of the St. John's Society. I have taken the trouble to investigate what are our resources in this Metropolis, and I find that, apparently, the only public body which has ambulances at all are the Asylums Board Authorities, and I cannot make out that they are very numerous, or, indeed, very effective. Besides these, the only horse ambulances in the Metropolis are three that are supplied by the St. John's Ambulance Society. It is true there are three hospitals which have nominally horse-ambulances, but that is somewhat of a misnomer, inasmuch as they have no horses, and if horses are required the patients have to provide the horses to put to the ambulance. There is another institution, Charing Cross Hospital, which has a hand-ambulance. Four, if not more, of our largest hospitals have no system of ambulance whatever. I do not like to mention names, but they are some of our very largest hospitals. We now come to the police. The police have stretchers which they use principally for the convenience of drunkards; and if any of your Lordships were to meet with an accident in the streets, it is probable yon would be carried away upon a stretcher, and, unless your character were known by the public, you might bethought to be in a very peculiar state. On the other side of the Atlantic, in Boston, they have, to my mind, a very perfect system. That system is under the direction of the police, and is applicable to all cases of illness and accident—that is to say, of illness that is not infectious. Throughout the city—and this system I may say is in operation also in the towns of New Haven and Norwich, Connecticut, and may be in force in other cities for aught I know—at certain distances in the streets there are boxes, generally placed at corner lamp posts. Every policeman has a key with which he can open the boxes. On opening them a telephone is discovered inside and a means of communicating by electricity with the central office. If a person desires to have a patient removed from his house to the hospital, or if an accident occurs in the street, it is only necessary to communicate with the nearest policeman; that policeman opens the nearest box; he instantaneously communicates with the central office; they, in turn, communicate with the nearest district office; in that district office there are horse-ambulances ready with attendants; the horse is ready harnessed, the doors are instantaneously thrown open, the whole arrangements being carried out by electricity, and away gallops the ambulance, with two men in attendance, and, probably, within two or three minutes after an accident in the street has occurred, the ambulance may be seen galloping down to the assistance of the injured individual. This system is made available not only for accidents but for other purposes, that is to say, for the assistance of the police. Consequently they consider it is no extra expense, inasmuch as no policeman in those cities is called upon to leave his beat. If he arrests an individual upon his beat he either himself opens, or gets somebody else to open, his box and communicates with the central office. He is not allowed to take the prisoner to the police-station. The ambulances are, therefore, used also for the purpose of taking prisoners to the police-station. That avoids the necessity of the policeman having to leave his beat for, perhaps, half-an-hour or an hour; it also prevents the necessity for other policemen leaving their beats to go to his assistance, because with the ambulances assistance always comes. To my mind it is a perfect system, enabling assistance to be given to the police; in fact, doubling and even trebling the numbers of the police, and, at the same time furnishing a very satisfactory system of ambulance, extending over the whole city. At the present time, in this country, we are trusting almost entirely to voluntary effort. Voluntary effort is a very magnificent thing, no doubt, but it cannot be expected to do everything—"C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre" was said of a certain cavalry charge; and I certainly think that some of our voluntary work cannot be considered the most effective, especially when we have to deal with enormous masses of population in our great cities and in our crowded Metropolis. I do think that, in the case of ambulance work, some organisation is required. My object, therefore, in asking this question is not so much in the expectation of receiving a reply from Her Majesty's Government as to ascertain the extent of information which may be obtainable in this respect. I shall be exceedingly astonished if they are able to afford us any, but I hope they will take steps to obtain information for the purpose of ascertaining what is the best system now adopted in our colonies or in any country in the world, with regard to establishing ambulances, so that if we find a good system, we may adopt it or improve upon it. At all events, the question will be brought under the consideration of the public, and I hope that, by means of the Reports which may be sent in, some definite result may be obtained. Our provincial towns are better off than we are in the Metropolis. I find that in Liverpool there are throe hospitals which are provided with horse-ambulances; there is also one in Leeds and another in Nottingham. I am not going to detain your Lordships with further remarks, but I hope Her Majesty's Government if they have not the information will kindly consent to obtain it.


My Lords, I have in reply to state that we have no information at all from any of the colonies upon this subject, but I see no reason why we should not ask the Governors to give us some information. I should not propose to get this from every colony, but with reference to some of the leading towns in Canada and Australia. It would not, I think, answer the noble Earl's purpose to have Returns from Crown Colonies.


I can only say with regard to foreign countries that this is not the kind of information which would naturally be furnished to us by our representatives unless it were specially asked for. I may add that I have no knowledge as to the existence of such a system as the noble Lord describes anywhere in the whole world.


Do I understand that the noble Marquess will consent to ask Her Majesty's Ministers and Ambassadors abroad to draw up Reports on the subject?


I would rather take it in the usual form that the noble Lord should move for a Return, stating where he thinks it probable such a system exists. I do not think it reasonable that we should write to representatives in all the cities throughout the world on the subject, without any ground for believing that such system is in existence there.


Would the noble Marquess state whether he would be willing to take any steps in the matter?


I would rather leave it to the noble Lord.


I may, perhaps' say that I propose to follow the same course with regard to, the colonies.