Disability Pension (Ex-Lieutenant Verity).

– in the House of Commons on 17th July 1922.

Alert me about debates like this

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Colonel Leslie Wilson.]

Photo of Mr Charles White Mr Charles White , Derbyshire Western

last Thursday I brought up the case of ex-Lieutenant Verity, who has been receiving treatment for tuberculosis for nearly four and a half years, and has had his disability reduced to 30 per cent. I received from the Minister of Pensions the amazing answer that this man was not suffering, and neither had he suffered from tuberculosis since he reliquished his commission. On this, in contradiction of the facts, I gave notice that I would bring the matter up to-night. Here are the facts. Mr. Verity joined the Army in August, 1914. He was temporarily discharged owing to an operation wound giving trouble. He joined again in December, 1915, and served in France. In October, 1916, he was sent home suffering from shell-shock and suspected tuberculosis. He was sent to the depot in Manchester in June, 1917, and repeatedly examined medically, and tuberculosis was diagnosed. He was sent to a specialist in July, 1917, who confirmed the diagnosis. The specialist was Captain or Colonel Marsden. He was sent home and was in bed two months. He was discharged from the Army on 11th September, 1917, with 100 per cent. disability and 100 per cent. pension for tuberculosis. Sanatorium treatment was recommended for this complaint. He went to a sanitorium and early in 1918 a payment of £33 4s. 6d. was made by the Ministry for his treatment there. The Ministry also recommended him to get examined by the county tuberculosis officer in the county in which he lived. The letter says—I have it here—that he had been suffering from tuberculosis. He tried after that to start business again and broke down with the same complaint. He was again examined by the tuberculosis specialist of Cheshire, and I understand that a point which the Minister of Pensions is going to make is that it is partly owing to the report from that gentleman that it had now been decided that Verity never suffered from tuberculosis at all The specialist report happened to be sent to Lieutenant Verity by mistake, so that he got the original report of Dr. Lawrence on 9th December, 1919. The report states: I examined this officer on 6th December. I think that there is some slight extension of the area of dullness since he was examined previously in June, 1919. In addition to the consolidation at the right apex there are signs pointing to the activity of the tubercular process. I am of opinion that further sanatorium treatment till the disease is quiescent is advisable, and, if that treatment has the expected result, afterwards the climate of South Africa would suit him excellently. This is the tuberculosis officer, to whom Verity was advised by the Minister to go for examination. I understand now that the contention is that Verity never suffered from tuberculosis at all. The report I have read was dated December, 1919. I want to know how a Minister can contend that Verity never suffered from tuberculosis at all, when the Minister's own specialist has said that! Verity was sent to a sanatorium, and this is the report of a specialist at a sanatorium: There is slight hilum tuberculosis on both sides. On the right side this has spread upwards along the sternal margin of the lung, but is limited in extent and appears inactive now. In the lower lobe the descending bronchi are somewhat thickened and the diaphragm is a little high. On the left side there has also been a little spread upwards from the hilum. but this is less marked than on the right side and appears quite inactive now. There is double evidence that this man has suffered. Since I have spoken to the Minister of Pensions this evening I have seen a photograph taken by X-rays showing this man's back and lungs. It shows clearly that there has been some tuberculosis. Unfortunately. I know what it is to look at photographs of that description, because in my own family I have had to examine photographs taken of my own daughter. There is a further letter of 29th September from the Ministry of Pensions sanctioning 26 weeks' payment "for your invaliding disability, namely, pulmonary tuberculosis." There is a letter, dated 20th September, 1921, stating that full retired pay had been allowed, and that the man's disability was pulmonary tuberculosis attributable to military service.

Here is a report of a remarkable examination by a specialist—not a tuberculosis specialist, but a heart specialist—saying there were no signs of tuberculosis in the lungs. That was in March, 1921. But, strangely, this same doctor had examined Verity the September before, and also a month before he sent the report to the Ministry saying there was no tuberculosis. What did he say? He would not pass him for insurance because of his health. He also said there were traces of tuberculosis, and that part of Verity's lungs had been destroyed because of the fact that he had this complaint. I want to know where we are. I want to know on what ground the Minister now says that this man never had tuberculosis. Verity was advised to go to a further tuberculosis officer at. Wallasey, which he did. What did the officer at Wallasey say? He said:

>"Mill Lane Dispensary,

Wallasey.

31st March, 1922.

I hereby certify that I examined George Verity, of 8, Oriell Road. Wallasey, on 30th August. 1921, and found him to be suffering from tuberculosis of the lungs. I advised him at that time to continue treatment for six months.

W. A. Muir, M.D.,

Tuberculosis Officer."

For over four years the Ministry never questioned as to what Verity's disability was. He was always treated as tuberculous. He has had 18 medical boards and medical examinations by specialists. His pension of 100 per cent. for tuberculosis was entirely stopped and replaced by one of 30 per cent. for neurasthenia. How is it that, after 4½ years, somebody comes down and declares that this man has not got tuberculosis and never had it? Surely there is need for explanation. It is, unfortunately, only one of many hundreds of cases that go through my hands wherein such things are happening. What will happen if this man is content with the finding of the Pensions Ministry? He again falls into bad health in 12 months from tuberculosis, but his pensionable disability is neurasthenia. Supposing that he should die and leave dependants, it would then be said that he had not died as a result of the pensionable disability, and the possibilities are that his dependants would get nothing at all. Whatever may be said about it, on the evidence of the specialists to whom he was sent by the Ministry, his disability is tuberculosis. If it is not, then the opinion of the men who examined him, and to whom he was advised to go by the Ministry, is of no account whatever. Without making any personal charge against anybody, I say it is time cases such as this were fully gone into and we had some definite explanation of why, after four and a half years, a disability should be called by some other name and whittled down, and the man at last left without any pension at all. This man has been to the medical appeal board, who told him that they had washed out the neurasthenia when he was before them. The man is now in the House; he has had to come down from Liverpool in connection with the case, and while I know the sympathy generally of the Pensions Ministry with these cases, I say this is a case which requires examination, and I hope it will be examined.

Photo of Sir James Macpherson Sir James Macpherson , Ross and Cromarty

I do not complain of the tone which the hon. Member has introduced into the discussion he has raised. The House must have been aware that this case was one of considerable difficulty. Where doctors disagree I do not know where the hon. Member and I come in. May I recapitulate the facts as I know them? This officer, a very gallant officer, enlisted in 1914. On 22nd September, 1916, a shell burst near him, and successive medical boards from September, 1916, until August, 1917, decided that his illness was due to shell shock, otherwise neurasthenia. In 1917, he went for a short period to the Second Western General Hospital. There he was entered as having two disabilities, namely, shell shock or neurasthenia and pulmonary tuberculosis, and he was awarded for the combined disabilities 100 per cent. Shortly afterwards this was reduced to 80 per cent., and then, if I remember aright, it was restored to 100 per cent. My hon. Friend forgot to mention that on 22nd June, 1918, this man was examined by the tuberculosis officer for Cheshire, who has very great knowledge of these cases, and he said that he could find no tuberculosis. Again, in 1920, he was at the sanatorium for not more than three and a half weeks, from 27th January to 23rd February, and during the whole of that time there was no trace of tubercle bacillus in his sputum. That is an admitted fact. In no single medical certificate that he can produce will he find that it is asserted that there was any tubercle bacillus found in his sputum. That is a very important fact.

Mr. WH ITE:

That does not disprove it.

Photo of Sir James Macpherson Sir James Macpherson , Ross and Cromarty

My hon. Friend, for the purposes of his case, stops at 1920. Let me deal with the two years since then. He entered Knotty Ash Hospital on 1st February, 1922, for observation and report, and, as my hon. Friend knows, the superintendent of that hospital is a very distinguished medical man. This is what he said, having considered this appeal: There are no signs of any tuberculous disease, of the lungs. In my opinion there is no evidence to support this diagnosis… In my opinion the lungs are free from any disease. This officer was again examined by a medical board on the 21st February, 1922, and they came to the conclusion that the assessment for chest was at present nil. They, however, found that neurasthenia existed. We were not satisfied with that, and I am sorry that my hon. Friend did not mention the next stage. He was examined by a Rontgen-ray expert, and my hon. Friend has seen the result. He has told the House that, unfortunately, he has experience of these photographs. I have not seen it myself, but my experts tell me that this report shows no signs of any sort or kind of tubercle having been in this man's lung. This Rontgen-ray result was presented before a medical appeal board—a medical appeal board composed of quite an exceptional number of medical men, no fewer than five, and that medical appeal board came unhesitatingly to the conclusion that tuberculosis did not exist, but they saw the man was in a neurotic state, and instead of depriving him, as my hon. Friend would lead the House to believe they intended to do, of his pension, they raised the 30 per cent. assessment of the previous medical board to 40 per cent. for neurasthenia. What does the officer, whose cause my hon. Friend so ably advocates, say? His complaint was this—I will read his letter, dated 10th June: I ask to be informed as to the correct procedure to be taken in getting my own case before the Appeal Tribunal at the House of Lords, the case being that the Ministry had changed the nomenclature of my disability and cut down my pension. That was his case. We made no attempt to deprive him of his pension. We said in the man's own interest—and I repeat that here—that his proper disability was not the one under which he was claiming. It was neurasthenia, and, instead of cutting down, we increased his assessment by 10 per cent.

Photo of Mr Charles White Mr Charles White , Derbyshire Western

After reducing it from 100.

Photo of Sir James Macpherson Sir James Macpherson , Ross and Cromarty

Yes. He was originally awarded pension for a joint disability. If he claims his condition has deteriorated arrangements will be made so that he can appeal. I will meet my hon. Friend if he still thinks, as I hope he does not, that we are trying in any way to alter this man's disability. Far from it.

Photo of Mr Charles White Mr Charles White , Derbyshire Western

What about the medical evidence I have produced?

Photo of Sir James Macpherson Sir James Macpherson , Ross and Cromarty

I have read all the medical evidence, but the hon. Member and I are not likely to agree where so many doctors disagree. I have come to the conclusion that the case of the Ministry was amply justified by the report I have read. In order, however, to assure my hon. Friend that I do not wish for a moment to have a single case on my conscience where there is any doubt of that kind, I would prefer to have this officer re-examined by three specialists.

Lieut.-Colonel WATTS-MORGAN:

Independent specialists?

Lieut.-Colonel WATTS-MORGAN:

Apart from any medical board or anybody else? If not, we shall have something to say to-morrow in other cases.

Photo of Sir James Macpherson Sir James Macpherson , Ross and Cromarty

Does the hon. and gallant Member doubt that I should act honestly in selecting a board of this kind?

Lieut.-Colonel WATTS-MORGAN:

I do not doubt it at all, but I am doubting the men employed by the Ministry in this work. I hope the right hon. Gentleman does not think that I for a moment cast any aspersion upon him. but I do upon the medical men employed by the Ministry.

Photo of Sir James Macpherson Sir James Macpherson , Ross and Cromarty

The hon. and gallant Member casts doubt upon the medical men?

Lieut.-Colonel WATTS-MORGAN:

I do.

Photo of Sir James Macpherson Sir James Macpherson , Ross and Cromarty

The appeal board increased the pension in this particular case.

Photo of Mr Charles White Mr Charles White , Derbyshire Western

But not for the same complaint.

Photo of Sir James Macpherson Sir James Macpherson , Ross and Cromarty

How can my hon. and gallant Friend stand up in this House and make such a deliberate statement as that, impugning the honour and honesty of the medical profession employed by the Ministry, when even my hon. and gallant Friend has to admit that the Board I appointed of five members to consider this particular case, instead of cutting down the pension, added to it? After all, Ministers of the Crown want common justice and common fairness, and I make this offer to ray hon. and gallant Friend. If he has got any instances, I am perfectly willing to consider his cases, as I do the case of my hon. Friend who has spoken, or the case of any other hon. Member in the House. Let me tell my hon. Friend and the House, we have nothing to gain by depriving a poor pensioner of his pension. So far from that, if we could at all we would like to increase them, but we have got to treat every case upon its merits, and I am satisfied—and I hope I have expressed my whole-hearted sympathy for this man—that the disability from which he is suffering and which has been assigned to him by the medical board is as I said, but I am quite willing, in order to reassure my hon. Friends, to have a new board composed of three distinguished specialists to re-examine this man and to see whether there is any justification whatever for the disability which has been attributed, somewhat negligently, I fear.

It being half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Half after Eleven o'Clock.