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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 13th March 1922.

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Photo of Mr Athelstan Rendall Mr Athelstan Rendall , Thornbury

I do not know that I share that opinion in view of the very important duties that a medical officer of health has to-day. It is, I believe, quite frankly admitted that the General Medical Council have altogether failed in their duty to the public in this matter. I say that with some trepidation in view of hon. Members opposite who belong to the medical profession. In view of the great importance and increasing number of duties which year by year are being placed upon medical officers of health, it is more and more essential that we should have thoroughly trained whole-time men. I cannot believe that half or part-time duty by a general practitioner is at all satisfactory. I have been acquainted with agricultural districts all my life and with general practitioners who were part-time public officials. They were men of quite as high character as the majority. Still, one must remember the position in which they were placed. They were doctors for the well-to-do farmers, employers of labour, and men who owned houses, and they were in the difficult position of having to attend these persons privately, and then, as public officials, perhaps to treat them in a different capacity. It is invidious to put men in such a position. A medical officer of health ought to be above suspicion in every way. He should be trained properly and be a man specially qualified to do the work for which he is appointed. If such a man is all he ought to be, he ought to put the public service first and foremost, and not private considerations of any kind. It is only in that way we shall get character and influence and that expert knowledge to which I think we are entitled in our medical officers of health. We put more work on the medical officer every Session, and, if that is to be the rule, then the sooner we get rid of part-time medical officers and appoint whole-time officers the better.

There is another matter which demands our attention at the present moment, and it is the controversies between the National Society and the Society for the Prevention of Venereal Disease in dealing with that subject. There are good and scientific men in both those organisations. Most of us have taken sides, some of us are members of the National Society and some members of the Society for the Prevention of Venereal Disease, and eminent men are to be found in both camps. The net result of this formation of two parties in dealing with this question is that progress is undoubtedly being delayed. This frightful evil is said to be increasing, and that is a most serious matter if the statement be true. The Minister of Health has up to now, on the whole, led himself to be persuaded by the National Society, and such money as he has been able to furnish he is utilising to carry out the policy of the National Society. For years there has been a spasmodic controversy in the "Times" and other newspapers on this matter between the representatives of those two organisations. It has gone on year after year, and we never seem to get to any final issue or any resultant policy decided upon either by Parliament or the medical profession itself.

Recently, in order to put an end to all this agitation, which has prevented drastic action being taken, it was thought desirable that under the ægis of the Ministry of Health there should be set up a scientific committee which would command the respect of both those bodies now engaged in controversy on this subject. It was suggested that the committee should be most carefully selected, that it should be furnished with all the necessary powers of taking evidence and decisions, and that it should be able to report to the Minister of Health in order to enable him to take up a more decided position. Under the predecessor of the present Minister of Health, most of us felt that ecclesiastics who were up to that time mostly in favour of the National Society on moral grounds, if they had not got the ear of the right hon. Gentleman, they had got his fear. The right hon. Gentleman has shown so much independence throughout his career and such strength in many of his actions that I do urge upon him that he should, regardless of the different quarrelling schools of medicine, theology, and morals, endeavour to get a committee together which will command general respect, get a Report, and act upon it without fear or favour. If the right hon. Gentleman did that, I think we might then be on the high road to find a policy of which we could approve.