asked the Minister of Pensions what is the time now taken to supply artificial legs and artificial arms from the date of measurement and order; and the average time now taken for repairs to artificial limbs sent to the main repair centres of his Department.
The time now taken to supply limbs to patients requiring artificial legs for the first time is normally 13 weeks. The average time over all classes of patients including those requiring spare limbs is 36 weeks for legs and 30 weeks for arms. The average time taken to repair artificial limbs at the main repair centres is eight weeks.
Although I do not wish to advocate the setting up of another priority class in this country, does not the Minister think that some priority should be given to men and women who need artificial limbs in order to be self-supporting, and that priority of repair should be given to those who need an artificial limb repaired in order that they may keep their jobs?
Yes, Sir, but the increase of work due to the National Health Service scheme has created difficulties for the industry, and some delay has been unavoidable. We have adopted a scheme of priorities in favour of patients requiring limbs for the first time, and of those requiring limbs to be repaired to enable them to maintain their employment or in urgent need of them for medical reasons.
I have already stated that we have now reviewed the whole position and made priorities which give those who need a limb to maintain their employment, priority over other classes. I would point out that the making of an artificial limb is not a matter of mass production. The limbs are all done by individual craftsmen, and a number of fittings are involved so that the man who is to get a limb will have one on which he can walk without discomfort.
A new factory has already started production of artificial limbs. The demand for artificial limbs is now declining. We have reached the peak, but, coinciding with that decline in demand, production is increasing.
The same priorities apply to the repair of artificial limbs as apply to the provision of a new first limb. The period of repair at the present time is about eight weeks.
It is impossible to give the figure asked for by the noble Lord. British artificial limbs have reached a high state of perfection and have a worldwide reputation and during the last few years improvements have been mainly in the nature of refinements, which as they have been approved, have been embodied in new limbs. On 23rd May, my right hon. Friend gave the noble Lord up-to-date information about the suction socket limb, which has been undergoing prolonged trial. My right hon. Friend would like to pay a tribute to the limb manufacturers who are unremitting in their search for improvements.
May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he is yet in a position to say when the suction socket limb will be approved? It has been under trial for some time now and I believe it is very satisfactory, or so I am informed by those who have tried it.
As my right hon. Friend pointed out in his reply of 24th May to the noble Lord, we naturally wish to issue the limb generally only when we are satisfied that every possible improvement has been made. We have now a further 100 patients fitted with the limb for trial. That makes 150 patients now wearing the suction socket limb on trial. Production is a much slower job than the production of the ordinary limb. We hesitate to impede the production of ordinary limbs too much until we are satisfied that the suction socket limb will be really satisfactory.