Vote 11. National Health Service, Scotland

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 12th March 1959.

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Photo of Mrs Mary McAlister Mrs Mary McAlister , Glasgow Kelvingrove 12:00 am, 12th March 1959

I should like to return again to the question of maternity beds, a question which I have raised in the House more than once during the past year and which is rapidly becoming tragic in Glasgow.

The Medical Officer of Health for Glasgow stated quite emphatically in his 1957–58 Report that practically no progress had been made in this matter.

He repeated practically the same words to the Glasgow Herald as late as 12th February last. He further stated that Glasgow was at a considerable disadvantage in this respect, even in relation to other Scottish towns.

Figures have been given by my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison). Fifty per cent. of Glasgow mothers can go to hospital to have their babies, as against 70 per cent. in Dundee and Edinburgh and approximately 90 per cent. in Aberdeen. I do not want to sound parochial, but I sometimes wonder whether the Minister realises the depth of the social problem which we have to face in the City of Glasgow. When the Second World War broke out, Scotland had the highest infantile mortality rate in the English-speaking world. With two exceptions, it was the highest of any country in Western Europe. Glasgow contributed in large measure to that very distressing record.

It is against that background, and in the face of housing conditions that, in some cases, can only be described as appalling, that the local authorities, medical and lay, as well as many tireless voluntary workers, have been striving to reduce the figures. Despite all their efforts, the figures remain substantially above the general level for the country as a whole.

We have heard many figures quoted tonight and I do not want to weary the Committee with many more, but I must point out that while there were 528 more births in Glasgow in 1957 than in 1956 there were 774 infant deaths in 1957; and that was the highest record since 1951. The 1958 figures have not yet been issued but I am told on good authority that they do not show a decrease. That is very serious indeed.

Is it any wonder that the people in Glasgow who are responsible for the maternity services feel frustrated? There are differences of opinion as to the desirability of all mothers having their babies in hospital—I even have some opinion on that myself—but could there be any difference of opinion as to where a mother should have her baby when she lives in a house which the medical officer of health admits he would condemn tomorrow if he had anywhere to put the tenants?

A recent Report of the Scottish Health Services Council on Maternity Services in Scotland—and my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mahon) reminds me that I gave evidence, though I had forgotten—states that it is thought very undesirable that mothers should leave hospital before the end of ten days. It is undesirable, primarily, for two reasons: first, because the mother is not strong enough to take up the domestic reins as she should; and, secondly, because of the difficulty in getting domiciliary midwives.

The Report states that it is quite common for a mother to leave hospital after seven or eight days, or even fewer. A great deal of inconvenience is then caused to those responsible for taking care of her, but how much more inconvenience is caused if she is in a house that is due to be condemned, or is even actually condemned? I could tell quite a number of harrowing stories about the conditions in which some young mothers are living in my constituency, but I have never used that type of propaganda and I do not propose to start tonight. I will repeat only one, and then only because there is a slight touch of humour in it.

A young mother complained to me about rats in the house. She was a very decent person, who kept a very clean house, and she did not want to appear to be too much of a grumbler. She said, "I am not saying that they went near the weans, as they did to the woman upstairs, but they nearly bit the e'en out of my kitten." That is a true story. I leave it to the consciences of right hon. and hon. Members opposite whether they consider such a domicile a suitable place in which to have a baby. I implore the Joint Under-Secretary to press on his right hon. Friend the need to do something about the provision of maternity beds in Scotland.