Air Estimates, 1940.

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply. – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th March 1940.

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Photo of Captain Sir George Elliston Captain Sir George Elliston , Blackburn 12:00 am, 7th March 1940

We are much indebted to the hon. and gallant Member for Handsworth (Commander Locker-Lampson) for the opportunity of bringing to the notice of the Secretary of State some matters affecting the health and welfare of the Royal Air Force. I will refer, first of all, to the great disappointment, expressed by medical women, that, so far, they have been given little or no share of the work of the Air Force Medical Services, especially in connection with the Auxiliary Service, popularly known as "Waafs." In the last war medical women were given important work in the Services and were mainly responsible for the health and well-being of the women in these Auxiliary Forces. In spite of the fact that they never had appropriate rank or authority, they were able to do valuable work, which was recognised in the "History of the War," and elsewhere. It is contended that women medical officers are especially fit to advise and look after those young girls who are serving in the Auxiliary Forces. In some cases these girls are sent to stations where they are billeted in any accommodation which is available, and when they are ill or run down, and require attention, it would be a great advantage if experienced women medical officers were available to look after them.

Above all, I urge the Under-Secretary to recognise how desirable it is that a senior woman medical officer should have the supervision of all these Auxiliary Services. We hear that we are definitely approaching a shortage of men medical officers. Already there are parts of the country where there are not enough private medical practitioners to look after the needs of the civil population, and it would be a pity not to make use of our 6,000 women medical practitioners. There are many hospital duties which they could perform well, for example, as bacteriologists, radiologists, pathologists or anaesthetists, and it seems unreasonable that they should be excluded from doing their part, as they wish to do, in the winning of the war. I would ask the Under-Secretary to report this matter for consideration by the Air Ministry. There is a very strong feeling on the subject, and I suggest that this is not the time when we can afford to neglect such a valuable source of medical officers as is afforded by medical women.

I will mention another matter, of which I am reminded by the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter)—the important work to be done in the prevention of disease. The hon. and gallant Gentleman told us how psychologists and others detected early signs of failure among pilots. I wish to refer to one source of ill-health common to military forces, namely venereal disease, and, happily, the Air Force, in this respect, has an uncommonly good record. The incidence of venereal disease is governed very much by civilian conditions surrounding camps and munition works, and I would ask the Under-Secretary whether they have taken account of the dangers to which some of our airmen are exposed in stations around London, in the Home Counties and in our industrial areas. A typical example may be seen in a town 12 to 15 miles away from London which until recently had a small population. Now it is an important centre of 50,000 people, and it can be shown that provisions for the prevention and treatment of venereal disease in that area is wholly inadequate. The Minister of Health quite recently sent out a circular calling upon local authorities to provide adequate treatment and suggesting that where necessary they should establish traveling clinics to meet war conditions. But the Ministry offer no financial help to these local authorities, and those of us who are familiar with their work know how unlikely it is that, at a time when, they are beset by the anxieties of evacuation and air-raid expenses, they will incur extra expenditure to meet conditions arising directly out of the war. There is a general feeling among local authorities that a special grant should be made for that national work. The particular area to which I have referred is under the administration of a great county council, but there are no clinics in the near vicinity; people in that area who want treatment have to go all the way to the London hospitals because the Home Counties have a joint scheme with the London County Council for the provision of treatment. What protection is it for the population in that area, for the working girls in that area, 4,000 of them, if they have to go 15 miles to get treatment? I suggest that the Ministry of Health should not be content with a polite circular telling local authorities what they can do with their block grant, which is already earmarked over and over again for essential services, but should provide an additional grant for this essential war service.

There is one other point. The Ministry of Health refer in their Circular, very justifiably, I think, to the great success which has been achieved in reducing the incidence of this disease. In the last war 400,060 men were infected, meaning a serious loss of fighting strength. The incidence has been greatly reduced, and is being reduced, almost entirely by education. Instruction in the Royal Air Force is being given admirably by medical officers, but the Ministry of Health realise that we must do something more.