Orders of the Day — National Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th June 1945.

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Photo of Mr Henry Willink Mr Henry Willink , Croydon North 12:00 am, 12th June 1945

Indeed, that matter is one which I have had very closely in my mind, and one which I have brought to the notice of the new Minister of Labour and frequently to that of his predecessor.

There are, I think, four other subjects on which I should like to touch shortly. The first is diphtheria immunisation. I ought to say a word about this because our campaign has been most successful. There is much still to be done, but there have been new low records, both of cases and of deaths, in each successive year since the immunisation campaign first got under way in 1941. The number of deaths last year was less than one-third of the pre war average, and the number of cases only just over half. For every three children dying of diphtheria before this campaign, only one is dying to-day. The number of cases notified last year was 28,000 below the pre-war average and 12,000 less than the previous low record. That progress is all the more remarkable when one takes into account the very severe diphtheria epidemics which have been spreading throughout Europe during this period. I have asked the local authorities to make a special effort this year to increase the level of immunisation. We have had enthusiastic co-operation already from local authorities, doctors, teachers, nurses, health visitors, and voluntary bodies such as W.V.S., the Red Cross and St. John. However, I do not believe it is yet realised that more children have been killed during the war by diphtheria than by the bombs. The figures are just under 9,000 deaths from diphtheria and about 8,000 as a result of the air raids. This is a powerful enemy but we have here an opportunity to win one of the great victories. If the great majority of children under 15 were immunised, instead of just over half as at present, and if every baby were protected as a matter of course at one year old, then we could get rid of diphtheria as an epidemic disease.

Let me deal next with what might have been a very serious matter indeed—typhus. When the Allied Armies swept over Germany there was a new danger, the danger that typhus might be imported into this country. Doctors throughout the country have been on the look-out for possible typhus cases since 1942, when the disease was prevalent in various parts of the Continent and in North Africa. A special warning was sent to medical officers of health then, and it has' been renewed recently. In 1942 my Department formed a special panel of consultants with experience of typhus, and the services of these consultants are available in order to assist diagnosis in any part of the country. A vigilant watch has been kept throughout the war at ports and air ports, and medical officers have done a tremendous amount of hard work in maintaining a close supervision of those who have newly arrived in the country and have been notified by the port officers as possible contacts. I should like to pay tribute to the way in which this vitally important work has been done. Twenty-one cases of typhus have, in fact, been diagnosed in this country. Fourteen of these are prisoners of war repatriated from Germany, and seven are medical students who were among the 100 volunteers who went for special duty in Belsen and other camps.All these cases were promptly isolated, and I am glad to be able to tell the House that no secondary cases whatever have occurred. Nor has any death occurred. Apart from these imported cases, there has been no case of louse-borne typhus in this country.

I feel the House will be interested to hear a letter which I received only a day or two ago from Field-Marshal Montgomery with regard to the work of those 100 young men. I am glad to be able to tell the House that all the seven to whom I have referred are out of danger. This is the letter: The work of the 100 medical student from London Hospitals, originally recruited for Holland and flown out to Belsen, has been so outstanding that I must write you this personal letter of gratitude.It was perhaps to be expected that they should be eager to help the victims of such atrocities, to suffer new experiences and to meet medical problems, but what was so gratifying was the great sense of responsibility and high discipline that they showed. Perhaps it was inter-hospital rivalry or just a natural esprit de corps, but the results were so good and the effect on their fellow workers so great, that they may all be proud of their work during this month. Of their medical work I am not in a position to speak, but their influence on the camp and on the sick was there for all to see.To the deans of the London Hospitals I wish to express our gratitude and my assurance that these boys have not lost, but rather gained in depth of experience and knowledge of humanity, by this month's work.Yours sincerely,(Sgd.) B. L. Montgomery,Field Marshal. I should like to say something about rehabilitation, because I do not think it is generally realised how much this has been developed during the war in hospitals within the Emergency Medical Service. The House has been concerned, through legislation introduced by the then Minister of Labour, with the great question of industrial rehabilitation and resettlement, but, of course, everything that is done in this field must depend upon what is done in the hospitals in the form of medical rehabilitation. Successful rehabilitation needs a full partnership of patient, doctor and employer. The House may be surprised to know that more than 11,000 patients in Emergency Medical Service hospitals are now taking daily courses of remedial exercises. In addition, 20,000 are attending hospitals daily for special exercises and remedial games. Of these 31,000 receiving rehabilitation, 15,000 are taking part in some form of occupational therapy. I think the House will agree that these figures are an impressive indication of the large measure of progress which is being made. Since my Department made a special survey in 1943 with the object of extending these facilities, the number of hospitals providing rehabilitation for their patients has increased from 150 to 300. The great majority of Service sick and wounded receive their medical rehabilitation in E.M.S. hospitals. More than 250 doctors have been given special training, and for hospitals handicapped by lack of accommodation—a very serious difficulty—the Ministry have provided 34 prefabricated buildings. Conferences have been held throughout the country for leaders of industry, personnel managers, welfare officers and industrial medical officers, to explain the whole process of rehabilitation, and the part which industry has to play in the resettlement of patients.