Orders of the Day — B.B.C. Television (Medical Programmes)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27th February 1958.

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Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir George Hutchison Lieut-Colonel Sir George Hutchison , Edinburgh West 12:00 am, 27th February 1958

At Question Time yesterday, I raised this subject and questioned the wisdom of showing operations on television. It was clear at Question Time yesterday that most hon. Members present felt that there was nothing wrong and that they rather favoured this type of programme. I must, therefore, take due note of the opinion of the majority in matters of this nature. Nevertheless, I still have grave doubts on this matter and find myself in agreement with a great deal of what the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) has said.

Unlike the right hon. Lady, I can speak only as a layman. Therefore, it would be wrong for me to attempt to be dogmatic on a matter involving medical opinion. As a layman, however, I feel that there are certain dangers in the presentation of this type of programme to viewers all over the country. These dangers appear to me to be twofold.

First, the showing of this type of programme may lead a considerable number of lay viewers to imagine that they are suffering from some form of serious disease. As a consequence, it may well be that doctors who are already heavily burdened with work will be faced with a greatly increased demand for tests and medical examinations of one kind and another. I cannot think that this will be helpful to the efficient and smooth working of the National Health Service.

Secondly—and this is much more serious—I believe that the viewing of operations on the television screen may well frighten some people who are in the early grip of a disease and may, in fact, deter them from seeking medical advice. I find myself in considerable agreement with the recent articles in the BritishMedical Journal which emphasise the morbid effects of this type of programme.

There is certainly a great deal of very useful work which can be done by television in informing and educating the public in hygiene and the prevention of disease, and in this respect I commend to the attention of the B.B.C. the letter written by Dr. John Fry in the British Medical Journal on 22nd February. I think, however, that the televising of operations is going too far, and I therefore hope that my hon. Friend the Assistant Postmaster-General and his Minister will give long and deep thought to this matter and will seek further medical opinion on it, because if they do I feel sure that they will find that many doctors are seriously worried about the possible effect of these programmes upon members of the public.