Orders of the Day — Nayland Sanatorium

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 28th July 1949.

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Motion made and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Joseph Henderson.]

10.54 p.m.

Photo of Commander Harry Pursey Commander Harry Pursey , Kingston upon Hull East

My object in balloting for the Adjournment tonight is to expose to the Minister of Health, the Press and the public, particularly those who support the annual £1 million Poppy Day appeal, one of the worst British Legion "rackets," and what I trust is the worst tuberculosis hospital scandal in Britain, namely, the Ex-British Legion Women's T.B. Sanatorium at Nayland, Suffolk, not far from Colchester.

I am fortified in doing so by letters from both patients and visitors, British Legion documents and also my own personal observations. Moreover, as the result of Questions which I put to the Minister a fortnight ago, three patients have written to the local paper, the "Essex County Standard," Colchester, defending the sanatorium but corroborating practically all the points made in the Questions.

The whole story, which I cannot relate fully tonight, is reminiscent of the worst times of Sarah Gamp as described by Charles Dickens. Yet since the three questions were published in the Press, the National Executive Council of the British Legion have decided to hold a private drumhead court martial which, today, I am informed is to be held in Church House, Westminster, the scene of the Lynskey Tribunal into the Sydney Stanley case, on Wednesday, 17th August, for the purpose of considering my position under their charter. The clause referred to states The National Council shall have power to suspend for a period, or expel, any member whom in their opinion, after proper inquiry, they shall consider to have acted disloyally or dishonourably towards the Legion. This, I submit, is an attempt by a political organisation closely associated with and practically dominated by active Tory Party members, with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Lonsdale (Sir Ian Fraser) as the "stooge" president, a position he ought never to have accepted, to muzzle an hon. Member of this House in his public duties in this House and in the country.

Photo of Sir Ian Fraser Sir Ian Fraser , Lonsdale

Would the hon. and gallant Gentleman allow me?

Photo of Commander Harry Pursey Commander Harry Pursey , Kingston upon Hull East

I am not going to give way to the hon. and gallant Gentleman. We have had experience before when he has made "three minute speeches" extending more than 15 minutes and he knows there is a time limit. I beg him to wait because he does not know what is coming to him.

This type of Star Chamber, in camera inquiry, has previously been used to squeeze out smaller critics of this vast octopus battening on the ex-Service men. I shall demand the right to a full public inquiry to expose the shoddy workings of Nayland Sanatorium and other Legion charitable "rackets" to the full light of day and public condemnation.

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

The hon. and gallant Gentleman must indicate where Government responsibility lies in this. The question can of course only be raised at all if there is to be Government responsibility.

Photo of Commander Harry Pursey Commander Harry Pursey , Kingston upon Hull East

I appreciate that, and I submit that the sanatorium I am dealing with is an ex-British Legion sanatorium, still known as the British Legion Sanatorium, on which the Minister of Health accepted three questions a fortnight ago and answered them; and today the Minister of Health is responsible for the sanatorium.

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

Let me be clear about this. As I understand it, the hon. and gallant Gentleman is making some complaint, rightly or wrongly, about the sanatorium which is administered by the Government. Is that the case in short?

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , Newcastle upon Tyne East

Perhaps it would help if I stated that this sanatorium was accepted by the Ministry of Health from the British Legion at the take-over on 5th July, 1948. It is a Ministry of Health responsibility.

Photo of Commander Harry Pursey Commander Harry Pursey , Kingston upon Hull East

Moreover, this Star Chamber effort may yet form the subject for further action in this House in the new Session, and result in the whole position of the British Legion and its Royal Charter, and its connection with the War Charities Act, forming the subject of the equivalent to a full scale Lynskey Tribunal inquiry at Church House, their own venue.

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

The hon. Gentleman must forgive me. So far he has not brought his complaint within the purview of Government responsibility. He appears to be dealing with matters which arose under the British Legion. He must show to me that the Government have some responsibility in regard to the matters he is complaining about. Clearly they have no responsibility in the matter he has mentioned so far—namely the tribunal.

11.0 p.m.

Photo of Commander Harry Pursey Commander Harry Pursey , Kingston upon Hull East

I defer naturally to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I now go straight into the history of this sanatorium and shall establish the Ministry of Health responsibility which you desire.

The history of this so-called sanatorium at Nayland is, briefly, that it was at first a private cottage hospital and, like most of them, crabbed, cabined and confined. It was then "up for sale" and was inspected by the L.C.C. Hospital Committee. Although desperately in need of T.B. accommodation, they reported, "We would not accept it as a gift." Nevertheless, despite its unsuitability, the British Legion acquired the place cheaply some years ago as a cheap, charitable institution for ex-Service women T.B. patients. Among other exploitations to keep the cost down, the patients had to manufacture Legion poppies and also paper hats for Christmas crackers.

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

The Government have not responsibility for that. I must ask the hon. and gallant Member to come to the point, and, if he can, to satisfy me that there is Government responsibility for the complaints he makes. It is not sufficient, nor would it be right, to allow him to make allegations against the British Legion or any other institution unless he first proves some Government responsibility for the matters of which he complains. I cannot allow an attack to be made on the British Legion under the cloak of some question of Government responsibility, unless this is proved.

Photo of Commander Harry Pursey Commander Harry Pursey , Kingston upon Hull East

I appreciate my difficulty, but I can now link it up quite definitely because today these British Legion poppies and paper hats are being made by patients entered into this sanatorium under the National Health scheme. My only difficulty is that I wanted to build up the background of it and admittedly, perhaps, I should have shortened that and established my case.

The case I want to put before you and the Minister is the fact that at "Zero Day," when the Ministry of Health took over this sanatorium, those practices should have ended. They have, in fact, gone on, and it is these practices of which I am complaining and to which I wish to draw the attention of the Minister of Health, in the same way as I did the three Questions I put a fortnight ago today. To save staff or make up for those who could not be obtained, patients were compelled, and are being compelled today, to look after themselves before they are sufficiently fit, and their progress suffers accordingly.

I will now actually come to what is in Order, I hope. Last year—vide the British Legion's annual report—the institution was acquired by the Ministry of Health and placed under the control of the East Anglian Hospital Regional Board, Cambridge, but unfortunately with the previous British Legion Council of Management "strongly represented on the House Committee." Consequently, instead of a clean sweep being made of the Scrooge practices of the British Legion and Naylands being run as a proper National Health Scheme women's sanatorium, it has continued to be run with all its Legion deficiences and "rackets." The result is that today, there are National Health scheme patients with no connection whatever with the British Legion being exploited in the same way as the earlier Legion ex-Service women.

The general responsibility is that of the Minister of Health, but the actual responsibility for failing to clean up this whited sepulchre is primarily that of the East Anglian Regional Hospital Board and, directly, the Nayland's House Committee. The responsibility for the general state of affairs, however, which is a carryover from 5th July, 1948, is obviously fairly and squarely that of the British Legion. Moreover, they had two other T.B. sanatoria for men at Preston Hall, Maidstone, and Douglas House, Bournemouth, both of which were run under much the same conditions and should be thoroughly investigated by the Ministry of Health. Time will not permit quotations from letters about the present position, so I will list complaints from visitors, first from a woman social worker of experience, then a complete stranger to me:— Appalled at exceptionally dirty conditions; literally festooned in cobwebs; floors not swept for days; not seen any water for months; obviously dust and dirt had effect on bed linen and blankets; broken and dilapidated bedside lockers and chest of drawers and groggy chairs; tea served in a long chipped enamel jug. The so-called occupational therapy was described as two hours poppy making. 150 an hour 3d. 6d. a day and 2s. 6d. a week for 10 hours and 1,500 poppies. Remark: I shall think very hard before I ever buy another British Legion poppy.Another racket: Paper hats for Xmas crackers sticking together and folding—a messy job—20 an hour 3d.Another racket: office typing 3d. per hour. Since questions were ask in this House the women have been informed that the money is not payment for work done, but is encouragement money. What encouragement? On the other hand, embroidery on filet net gloves is something to interest a woman, and more useful work still should be found for them. Second letter, from someone with personal experience of hospital management committees: Room 31, Rain comes through ceiling—waterproof sheets are put on beds and beds turned round. Buckets or bowls are placed to catch water—but allowed to remain and overflow. Complaints receive reply 'nothing can be done.' This is sheer nonsense and incompetence. Complaints — bathrooms and lavatories, Distemper—depressing—month after month. Writer's remarks: Have seen many institutions, know what has been done in a short time under National Health Scheme. Cannot understand why not sanatorium of all places. Considerable laxity on whoever responsible. Third letter, from someone who had not met the other people: general confirmation. Service family, no connection with Legion: don't want to be mixed up with the Legion and its rackets, yet relation a National Health patient sent to Nayland. Poppy boxes all labelled 'made by totally disabled ex-Service man,' yet ex-Service man has never touched them. Last year the Legion required propaganda photographs for the Press of ex-Service girls "making poppies." None were making poppies, so it was suggested that ex-Service girls should lend their khaki tunics to non-ex-Service girls to have their photographs taken and create the illusion of ex-Service poppy-makers. Despite the likely come-back, to their credit the ex-Service girls very properly refused, and so there was one less of these "racket photographs." There is no operating theatre at Nayland, so serious cases are bumped 50 miles from Suffolk to Kent by Tilbury-Gravesend ferry to other Legion Sanatorium, Maidstone—as in old Legion days. Obviously this should stop and patients should be operated on in East Anglian hospitals, at Papworth, Scole or Newmarket. There is a fourth letter which I shall not quote because of time.

The next step, obviously, was to visit Nayland, which I did. There are three blocks, upper, lower, and centre, and possibly conditions differ in each, but the general conditions apply all round. I was, however, informed that one sister in one block was doing everything possible under adverse conditions. In any case, I have no wish to make personal attacks on the medical superintendent, the matron, or the staff. They may well be able to do better with improved facilities, That is for the Minister to decide.

All reports in the letters were confirmed. I walked round the rooms. I visited Room 31 and confirmed the ceiling leak story. No bedside rugs are provided so that patients have to step on to cold floors. In chalets, the only rug is a small piece of Army blanket. One case I shall always remember—a woman of 20, who looked 40, was losing weight, had little flesh, and her bones were almost sticking through her skin. Someone else told me that she had asked for an air ring for more comfort in bed. She was refused with the argument that there were more urgent cases. Yet I understand that several rooms are closed.

Lavatories are an indication of general standards. By midday toilet paper runs out and newspapers are used. A notice which I saw in the lavatories read: Sanitary towels should be wrapped in newspaper before disposal. Toilet paper must not be used for this purpose. Signed: Assistant Matron. I understand that bins should be provided for this purpose.

Another practice, contrary to usual hospital routine, is that patients have to pay for their own soap. Those who complain of chipped crockery are informed that there is no other, but they can have a new cup if they pay 9d. I visited the scullery and kitchen, and saw a notice to this effect: "Hot water bottles are not allowed except by permission of the Medical Superintendent." In cold weather this means unnecessary hardship, and women have to get out of bed to fill their own bottles surreptitiously.

Food requires more attention. In the scullery, bread and butter and cake for tea had been cut up hours before, left uncovered, and was being attacked by flies. Milk was also uncovered and open to flies. Meals are supplied in a slipshod manner. Cruets, or salt cellars, are not provided. Instead, salt is piled on the side of lunch plates, the gravy slopped over it, and a salt meal results. I actually saw and heard what happened at tea-time. Tea was taken round in an old, long, well-chipped and rusty enamel water jug. The same jug was used for the soup at lunch-time. The door of a room was opened and a voice called, "Any bread and butter?" The answer was "No," and then someone said "Cake, please." But no cake arrived, and so patients in some rooms would have had nothing to eat had it not been for the visitors who had brought food.

I saw the poppies and boxes, paper hats and the other gear masquerading as occupational therapy. Surely with the advance of this art, these women, sometimes there for many months, when able, should be taught work of use to them on their return home. Certainly, National Health Scheme patients should not be made to work on poppies and other nonsense for the Legion.

Another subject for criticism is welfare—particularly for ex-Service women originally entered by the Legion. Some come from homes hundreds of miles away in the north and south. Some of them are particularly unfortunate as they come from poor families with widowed mothers who cannot afford to visit them. There are over 800 organisations cadging money from the public for ex-Service men and women, and there is over £20 million in their funds from which to provide travelling facilities, yet these people are not informed of the fact.

I have only been able to paint part of the picture of this wretched Naylands Sanatorium. In view of some of the awful conditions I hope I have done so with restraint and a sense of proportion. There are far worse things I could have said and may say on a future occasion. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Lonsdale (Sir Ian Fraser) is present. I informed him of this Debate, but I suggest to him that the better plan will be to give the Parliamentary Secretary the remainder of the time to reply.

The British Legion and its ex-officio President have, thank Heaven, no standing whatever in this sanatorium now that it has passed to the National Health Scheme. Any case they wish to make should be made at the public inquiry outside, which I have advocated for nearly a year. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will not attempt to make debating points. Certain improvements have already taken place as the result of my questions. Teapots and milk jugs are now provided. A non-British Legion Committee is going to be set up. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary is not going to take refuge behind the argument that there have been few complaints. We want to get these people up to a better standard. I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to go into the question of the distant patients and have them transferred nearer their homes. I appeal to him also to clear out every vestige of the scandal of the British Legion and start to run this place as a proper sanatorium, preferably under a new title, such as that of Florence Nightingale, the great woman hospital reformer.

Photo of Sir Ian Fraser Sir Ian Fraser , Lonsdale

I protest that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Hull (Commander Pursey) has deliberately taken 21 minutes out of 30 in order to prevent me answering the charges he has made, most of which are out of Order. The question as to whether he will be expelled from the British Legion is sub judice, but it has nothing whatever to do with this matter and was decided upon weeks ago.

11.18 p.m.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , Newcastle upon Tyne East

I should like to start by dissociating myself entirely from a very large part of what has been said this evening and to say that if my hon. and gallant Friend had wished to raise charges of this nature, it would have been far better if he had started by approaching the responsible body, the hospital management committee responsible for this hospital and others in the area, instead of raising it first in the House as he has done. I think if he had followed that course, very many of the wild and exaggerated statements he has made would not have been found to have any accuracy at all. It is true this was originally a private hospital in very bad condition. It is true that the British Legion took it over some years ago and from what I can find out from the careful investigations that have been made, they have made very many real improvements in the condition of that sanatorium in the period of years in which they have been in charge.

Photo of Sir Ian Fraser Sir Ian Fraser , Lonsdale

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that during the five years before the Department took it over the British Legion spent £86,000 on this hospital?

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , Newcastle upon Tyne East

I am fully aware of the great deal of work they did in what I know were very difficult conditions. That does not mean there is not much still to be done. We all appreciate that. I think it is very wrong to give the impression that nothing was done by the British Legion when they were in control of this hospital. I should like to make it clear that, in order to ease the changeover from the British Legion to the National Health scheme, it was agreed that the existing house committee should continue to operate as agent for the hospital management committee in order that there should be maintained that contact with the ex-Service community which we wish to maintain.

As my hon. and gallant Friend has mentioned, it is true that very shortly a fresh house committee will be elected, but this should not be regarded as in any way due to any of the remarks he has made; it was agreed some considerable time ago and was, of course, always intended. There will still be on that house committee representation of ex-Service interests, in view of the fact that this sanatorium has been in the past connected with the British Legion village settlement at Maidstone. There are very real and useful contacts existing which we would not like altogether to destroy.

I agree, that some of the wards are not in as good a condition as we would like them to be; but already proposals have been put forward, indeed were put forward some time ago, for their improvement. It is true that much more needs to be done in regard to remedial treatment in the sanatorium. I think it is generally agreed that we want to encourage the men and women there to engage in a variety of useful occupational work. It is true that up to recently the making of poppies and paper hats has gone on, but certainly without any objection from the patients themselves. We are seeing that in future there shall be a wide provision of occupational therapy, such as would be found in any modern sanatorium. I am rather astonished that my hon. and gallant Friend prayed in aid the letter which some of the patients sent to the Press recently, as that letter begins by saying, As patients we are strongly opposed to the insinuations made by Commander Pursey in the House of Commons recently … It goes on to express whole-hearted disagreement with much of what he said.

Photo of Mr Arthur Blenkinsop Mr Arthur Blenkinsop , Newcastle upon Tyne East

There was not much in the way of criticism supported by the comments in this letter. Some points of criticism were valid, but many are wholly trivial in character, and particularly such remarks as where the salt was put, and whether the gravy spills over it, or does not. I think it is rather a pity that matters of that kind should be raised in this House. Complaint was made about the quality of meals. I have gone to the trouble of getting the meal menus for a considerable period back. I have examined what is provided for the patients in this hospital and I say that it compares very well indeed with the standard of any hospital in the country.

I strongly suggest to my hon. and gallant Friend that instead of raising this matter in the manner he has done this evening he would have been better advised to approach the hospital management committee, who are only too anxious to see that, in so far as the standards in this hospital fall below the standards in the best sanatoria in the country, they shall be improved as quickly as possible.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'Clock and the Debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Twenty-four Minutes past Eleven o'Clock.