HL Deb 08 June 1964 vol 258 cc691-5

3.37 p.m.


My Lords, I should like, with your Lordships' permission, to read a Statement made in another place this afternoon by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. It is as follows:

"With permission I should like to make a further Statement to the House on the outbreak of typhoid in Aberdeen.

"This afternoon there were 412 patients in hospital in Aberdeen—only 10 more than yesterday; 345 of these were confirmed cases of typhoid fever and 67 suspected cases under investigation. I am glad to be able to tell the House that the pattern of illness has been generally mild.

"It appears from investigation into the histories of these patients that the infection of the vast majority can be traced directly to a connection with the supermarket in Aberdeen where the primary source of infection probably occurred—which had been open for eight months, instead of eight weeks, as I erroneously said last Thursday. This means that there has been relatively little spread as yet from those whose infection was contracted there. Elsewhere in the country 31 patients (29 in Scotland and two in England and Wales) were in hospital yesterday with typhoid fever contracted in Aberdeen, and 40 were under investigation. It is perhaps inevitable that some cases will occur from close contact with the disease, but although it cannot be stated certainly that there will be no wide spread the measures taken by the public authorities and the advice given to the public should contain and minimise the threat.

"The management of the large food factory at Dyce which has been closed voluntarily for a fortnight took this action after consultation with the County Medical Officer of Health and Dr. MacQueen as a precautionary measure because all its workers were resident in Aberdeen.

"Although people living in Aberdeen are still advised not to move out of the city at present, and people from elsewhere should only travel to Aberdeen on essential business, medical advice is that there is no need for a more rigid restriction in movement at present.

"I have made available a senior medical officer from my Department to reinforce Dr. MacQueen's staff. Additional public health staff are immediately available from the other Scottish cities, but their services have not as yet been needed.

"My Chief Medical Officer, in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health, has publicly advised that general inoculation against the enteric group of fevers is unwise and has stressed that a high standard of general hygiene is the best preventative of spread.

"Although, in view of the action that has been taken, it is not thought that any wide spread of the epidemic is likely, medical officers of health in other parts of the country have been reminded of the importance of keeping a watch on the situation in their areas.

"I have already announced that the Chairman of the Committee of Inquiry will be Sir David Milne, formerly Permanent Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office. The other members will be:

Professor A. B. Semple, Professor of Public Health in Liverpool University; Medical Officer of Health and Port Medical Officer, City of Liverpool.

Dr. J. W. Howie, Director of the Public Health Laboratory Service in England and Wales.

Mr. A. M. Borthwick, Chairman of Thos. Borthwick & Sons Ltd., meat importers and distributors, London.

Mrs. Gabrielle Pyke, J.P., Chairman of the National Federation of Women's Institutes of England and Wales.

"My right honourable friends and I are grateful to them for their readiness to serve on the Committee.

"The terms of reference of the inquiry are:—

'To investigate the cause of the primary infection in the recent outbreak of typhoid fever in Aberdeen and the means by which it was disseminated, and to report.'

"As I said last week, the first priority is to contain the present epidemic, and the Committee will not wish to add to the burden of work at present falling on the Medical Officer of Health and his staff. Subject to this, however, they will get down to work as soon as possible."


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friends, I should like to thank the Minister for this statement. We are of course glad to hear that this outbreak is a mild one and not of a virulent kind of typhoid. In my opinion it is quite irresponsible for people to comment on an outbreak of disease, or indeed any complaint which is something like typhoid, even a mild kind of complaint, without having all the details. Nevertheless, I think that many people, having read in their papers and having listened to Dr. MacQueen on the radio night after night on this subject, must have been a little concerned to think that this doctor seemed to be acting as rather a lone figure. I would remind the noble Lord that it was a week ago, on another Statement, when I drew the attention of the House to the fact that I understood an eminent member of the Aberdeen Town Council pointed out at the council meeting a week ago that the sanitary services had been depleted and they should be brought up to strength. I then asked why more medical expertise was not sent to Aberdeen, and it is rather surprising that another week has elapsed before the noble Lord says that at long last one of his senior medical officers has been sent to help Dr. MacQueen. I find this delay curious and very difficult to understand because, generally, when a medical officer is faced with this kind of thing and when the full glare of publicity is focused upon him, one feels he should ask for help. I feel the House should know whether there has been some difficulty in Aberdeen about having the help which the central Office has offered accepted. And when the noble Lord says in this Statement that more officers are available, does this simply mean that only after pressure one senior medical officer has been accepted and there is a reluctance to accept more?


My Lords, I can assure the noble Baroness that that is not so. We have had constant contact with the medical officer of health. There has been no difficulty or conflict, and Dr. MacQueen has at all times had the offer of any help he needed.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to clear up one point? The senior medical officer who is being sent to Aberdeen will not be senior to Dr. MacQueen, will he? I take it that Dr. MacQueen will still be in charge of the situation.


Yes, my Lords, that is the statutory position.