Coal Situation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 1st October 1942.

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Photo of Mr Tom Smith Mr Tom Smith , Normanton

Yes. The duty or work of the regional medical officer will be to survey such things as first-aid treatment and ambulance services. Anybody who has been associated with pits knows that a good many collieries were deficient in some of the very first things that they ought to have had years and years ago. I worked in a colliery for more years than I care to look back on where there had to be the utmost agitation in order to get an ambulance and where there was no first-aid room. While a good deal of progress has been made, there is certainly some work left to be done. The regional medical officer will be expected, among other things, to supervise and improve the first-aid treatment. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower knows that in the Royal Commission's Report there are three paragraphs dealing with this specific point, urging more improvement, better qualifications for those who are handling it, and so on.

There are then the investigation and preventive measures concerning occupational diseases and fitness. I wonder whether the average Member appreciates what is taking place in mining at the present time. There are occupational diseases like nystagmus, which has been on the decline largely because there has been extra illumination. There is an occupational disease called silicosis, which the House will hear more about in a few weeks, and which, as a result of an inquiry in South Wales, is to be called pneumoconiosis. If anybody wants to know what silicosis actually means, he need only read that report and make some investigation of cases in certain parts of the country. I think hon. Members will agree that there will be plenty of work for the regional medical officer along those lines. The regional medical officer should be the type of man who is able to go down pits. To my own knowledge there are certain pits where men suffer from carbuncles and boils on an average more than in other pits, and where the causes should be investigated. There is to-day evidence of a certain number of cases of dermatitis, not limited to one district, where there is plenty of room for the medical officer to go down the pits and try to ascertain the causes and the necessary preventive measures.

Another thing we have recommended is that there shall be medical inspection of juveniles in accordance with the recommendation of the Forster Committee. I want to be frank about this matter. With the strain on the medical staff of the country at the present time, it would be almost impossible to carry out the annual inspection of youths in pits up to the 19th year. So what the committee suggests at the moment is that a youth entering the industry should be examined as to fitness for the work, and that after all is vital, but the question of the annual inspection up to the 19th year is a matter that shall be discussed with the Mineworkers' Federation. There has been a good deal of hostility in the past to the annual examination, and we know the reason why. On that score alone we shall find plenty of work for the regional officers.