Orders of the Day — Nayland Sanatorium

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

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Photo of Commander Harry Pursey Commander Harry Pursey , Kingston upon Hull East 12:00 am, 28th July 1949

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.