HC Deb 16 June 1953 vol 516 cc42-5W
66. Wing Commander Hulbert

asked the Secretary of State for War if inquiries are now completed in regard to the death of Private Donald Harrison, of Stockport, who died in Moston Hall Military Hospital in April; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Head

I previously undertook to give the House a full and frank reply on this subject.

Private Harrison, a young man aged 18, was called up for military service in January, 1953, when he was passed as medically fit.

On 13th March, at Wrexham. he reported sick with a pain in his back which the medical officer in charge of his unit diagnosed as fibrositis. He again reported sick on 26th March when the medical officer diagnosed "Query hysteria" and ordered his admission, on 26th March, to the Military Hospital at Chester.

On admission he was given, by the admitting medical officer, a preliminary medical examination which included a detailed examination of the central nervous system for the purpose of allotting him to the appropriate medical division of the hospital. The admitting officer made a firm but not final diagnosis of hysteria.

This preliminary examination was correct in so far as Harrison was undoubtedly suffering from hysteria. The fact that it was not discovered that he was also suffering from a rare and malignant disease was not necessarily at this stage due to negligence since a more detailed subsequent examination should have taken place after admission to the ward.

After admission, Private Harrison was required by the medical staff of the hospital to fend for himself and other patients were forbidden to help him. The treatment of hysterical patients does require that they should be encouraged to help themselves, but in no circumstances should it entail harshness. Although he complained that he could not use his legs, he was left to get about as best he could by himself. This treatment continued for five days during which time Harrison's condition deteriorated and I am satisfied that the continuance of this type of treatment was due to negligence and undoubtedly resulted in harshness. A full physical examination is always required before a diagnosis of hysteria can be justified and should have been made on the first day in the ward. The medical specialist looking after Harrison should have satisfied himself that this had been done. This he neglected to do. Furthermore, although during these five days Harrison frequently complained of pain in his legs, thighs and back and although this was recorded by (the subordinate nursing staff, the day sister in charge of the ward never drew the attention of the medical specialist to Harrison's repeated complaints. This wrong and harsh treatment was continued despite the comments and protests of at least one other patient in the ward.

It was not until Tuesday, 31st March, that Harrison was seen by a psychiatrist and thereafter received sympathetic handling, but even at this stage a full examination had not been made. On the night of 1st April the medical orderly became worried about Harrison's condition and called the orderly medical officer and then for the first time Harrison was given a full medical examination. The orderly medical officer realised at once that Harrison was dangerously ill and from this time he was treated for the malignant disease from which he was suffering. Harrison died early on the morning of 5th April.

At the time of his admission to hospital Harrison's illness had undoubtedly reached a stage when death was inevitable since malignant disease of this type in youth, though rare, grows very rapidly. I do not suggest that this in any way excuses the mistakes made in the handling of this case.

After Harrison's death it should have been abundantly clear to the commanding officer of the hospital that serious irregularities and mistakes had occurred. Yet, as far as I can ascertain, no thorough inquiry was instituted by the commanding officer although on 18th May he stated that a full inquiry had already been made by himself and that he was satisfied that there was no truth in the allegations that there had been ill-treatment of patients.

I have been into the whole of this serious occurrence most carefully and I am convinced that it was caused not by any fault in the method of procedure laid down for Army hospitals, but by the failure of certain individuals to carry out their duties. Members of the Army Medical Services carry heavy responsibilities and those who fail to discharge them must be called to account.

The commanding officer will be called to account for his conduct in this matter and is to be tried by court-martial.

The medical specialist concerned, who left the R.A.M.C. in May, will be reported to the General Medical Council.

The day sister concerned, who is a civilian, has had her contract terminated and will be reported to the General Nursing Council.

I have written to the mother of Private Harrison expressing my extreme concern and disquiet about the way her son was treated and I would like also to tell the House how much I regret this lamentable occurrence.