HL Deb 20 April 1994 vol 554 cc191-3

2.57 p.m.

The Countess of Mar

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied that patients who believe they are suffering from the effects of exposure to organophosphates are being properly treated by the National Health Service.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege)

My Lords, clinicians treat patients to the best of their ability, using their own clinical judgment. In the NHS we investigate any formal complaints brought to our attention, including any from patients who believe that they are suffering from exposure to organophosphates.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. Does she recall that on 4th October last year I wrote in confidence to the Secretary of State for Health asking her to investigate the activities of the National Poisons Unit at Guy's Hospital? I quoted specifically the cases of Mrs. Annette Griffin and Mrs. Barbara Lawson. Both of those ladies were told by the National Poisons Unit that, yes, they were suffering from organophosphate poisoning. When it was discovered that they worked for a health authority, the director of the National Poisons Unit called a meeting of all the physicians responsible for those two ladies in Cheshire and withdrew from their files any reference to organophosphate poisoning. One of the ladies was twice pregnant while working for the health authority. She is worried about the health of her children. They can get no help whatsoever—

Noble Lords


The Countess of Mar

My Lords, I have asked a question.

A noble Lord

Too long

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, will the Minister please explain why I have had no full reply to my letter of 4th October?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I am aware of the letter that the noble Countess sent to the Secretary of State. She will remember that we met officials on 25th November to discuss her concerns on this issue. Since that time officials in the department have met the director of the National Poisons Unit, and discussed in particular her concerns about the questionnaire. I understand that it is now no longer used.

Lord Morris

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the gap between what patients believe and the reality is often very wide indeed?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, my noble friend is right; that is often the case. In this area we are in some difficulty because as far as I am aware there have been no cases where it has been conclusively proved that the symptoms can be attributable only to the proper use of OP sheep dips.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, I am sorry to press the Minister but perhaps I may say to her noble friend that both cases were well documented and there were witnesses at the meetings. There is another case of a man in the Isle of Wight who was told by Guy's National Poisons Unit, "We cannot tell you at the moment whether you are suffering from organophosphate poisoning. We will tell you in two years". Is the Minister aware that the questionnaire about which I asked was described by a senior consultant psychiatrist in London as being designed to discredit patients? Will the Minister ensure that help is given to discount any organic cause of illness before psychiatric reasons are given for it?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I was not aware of the particular comment that the noble Countess gave on that questionnaire. I am sure she will be relieved to know that it has now been withdrawn. With regard to patients who believe that they are suffering from exposure to organophosphates, it is up to GPs and clinicians working in hospitals to exercise their clinical judgment and to treat them as best they can. Where patients feel aggrieved we have a complaints procedure.