HL Deb 21 July 1969 vol 304 cc651-2

2.41 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware of the serious overcrowding of beds in the wards of many of our mental hospitals; and whether they have any proposals to remedy this situation.]


My Lords, improved methods of treatment have significantly reduced the number of hospital beds occupied by the mentally ill: nevertheless, higher survival rates among the handicapped and increased life expectancy have placed a strain on the hospital services, and overcrowding is still a problem in many areas, particularly the subnormality hospitals.

With regard to the second part of the noble Lord's Question, we are vigorously pressing two lines of development to remedy the present situation. One of these is to emphasise the importance of early assessment and rehabilitation and to expand as quickly as possible the provision of general hospital psychiatric units, day hospitals, hostels and facilities for support within the community, all of which can reduce the need for in-patient admission, or lead to earlier discharge. The other is to give higher priority to measures, including the provision of more space both in the wards and other areas used by patients, designed specifically to raise the standard of amenity and the quality of life for long-stay patients.


My Lords, in thanking the noble Baroness for that reply, may I ask whether she accepts that the staffs of these hospitals do a splendid job in very difficult circumstances? Secondly, may I ask her whether she is aware of the acute shortage of locker space in many of these hospitals? Furthermore, would the noble Baroness agree that the provision of lockers is of enormous therapeutic advantage, particularly to those who are not completely mentally subnormal? At the moment, many of them lack this amenity.

Baroness SEROTA

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me this opportunity of publicly paying tribute to the work of the staff of our mental hospitals, often in very difficult and admittedly overcrowded situations. I would also agree with the need to provide all patients with a place where they can keep their own private possessions.


My Lords, would not another way of reducing the number of people in the beds in the wards of our mental hospitals be to increase the amount that we spend on research into mental retardation?

Baroness SEROTA

My Lords, any advances in our knowledge in this field are bound to improve the services we can provide.


My Lords, would not my noble friend agree that this grave overcrowding in our mental hospitals not only is opposed to the best interests of the patients, but causes serious dissatisfaction among the nurses, who are in very short supply; and that therefore this is a vicious circle which should have immediate attention?

Baroness SEROTA

My Lords, that is the very reason why my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and I are at present engaged in active discussions with the chairmen of Regional Boards throughout the country to see whether we can find ways and means of breaking what the noble Baroness has referred to as "a vicious circle".


My Lords, could my noble friend possibly consider revising the period of training of nurses in general hospitals so that they can spend a longer period of training in mental hospitals?

Baroness SEROTA

My Lords, I think that that question is a little wide of the Question the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, originally put down.