Orders of the Day — Hospitals, Dartford (Ronald Meloy)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th November 1960.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Hughes-Young.]

11.40 p.m.

Photo of Mr Norman Dodds Mr Norman Dodds , Erith and Crayford

Today, in the House, we had a debate on housing, and horrifying stories were told of the misery and distress caused to very many of our people as a result of the Rent Act. I wish to speak now not about large numbers of people but about one humble person in particular and a handful of people in general. It is, I think, worthy of comment that in this House, where the Commons concerns itself with not tens of millions but hundreds of millions of people throughout the Commonwealth, it is possible to raise the case of one humble person. That is a remarkable fact, and it is, I believe, something of which this House of Commons may be proud.

I am raising the case of Ronald Meloy, a boy of 16, who, unfortunately, is almost completely disabled by a form of paralysis. He is an intelligent boy. He is well liked by many people. Because of his present unsatisfactory circumstances, I have been asked to take up his case with all the emphasis I can command in the hope that matters can be improved with all possible speed.

This boy, despite his affliction, was, until a few months ago, reasonably happy at his home where, in the care of his mother, he could live and, perhaps, watch the television. During the day, he was taken by car or ambulance to a special school at Lewisham. His circumstances changed when he lost the care of his mother. Of course, it was impossible for his father to look after him at home. After a while, he was taken to a hospital in Margate, and he is now at a hospital in Bognor.

At his home in Belvedere in my constituency, Ronald Meloy had many friends. Now, those who wish to see him must make a journey of 120 miles. Although there are friends who, on occasions, can take his grandmother, father and young brother or other friends to see him, even for these good Samaritans it is asking a lot to do the journey very often. The information I have is that, as a result of this separation from his family and friends. this boy is very lonely and unhappy. No one can doubt that he must miss his relatives and his friends.

I hoped that the matter could be dealt with without any need to bring it to the Minister or to the House. I made all the inquiries I could in the hope that something would be done quickly, but I gather from what I was told that it is likely to be months, or even a year, before he can be admitted to a hospital at Dartford within a mile or two of his home. Dartford has a conglomeration of hospitals. Only last year, the Southern Hospital was closed down in that area. I was, therefore, surprised to be informed that, although there is a small unit there, it is very rare for a vacancy to be available for a person of this sort. Not only that. There are two other people ahead of Ronald Meloy waiting for vacancies at the Joyce Green Hospital. The situation of this young chap is such that a wait of a few months or a year is like an eternity. I am told that the effect of the loneliness is most marked upon him. That is the testimony of relatives and friends who have seen him.

After my inquiries into the case of Ronald Meloy, I am very concerned to find that there are others in the same or a worse plight waiting for a vacancy at the hospital in Dartford. Ronald Meloy, I am informed, has had his name down for this hospital, not for months, but for nearly two years. The doctor advises that he should go there. Those concerned with the case begged that something should be done so that he could be in the neighbourhood, and I have letters from friends that should he be in the Dartford area, they would be able to take him out or he could go home for week-ends. For example, a letter from his father states: To get Ronald to Dartford would be a godsend to us all. We could have him home at week-ends. I therefore raise this case because the information locally indicates that there is need to extend the vacancies in a hospital of this sort.

It happened that a few days ago, I had a letter from the Minister on another subject. It related to the fact that 100 young people under the age of 16 who are mentally ill are accommodated in the men's wards in mental hospitals. The Minister rightly pointed out that these youngsters were in areas where there were no children's wards at the hospitals and that if they were to be sent to a children's ward, it would mean that they would have to go a long way from their homes. Time and time again in this House it has been pointed out how essential it is that young people in particular, when they are receiving treatment, should be within easy access, if possible, of friends and relations. In other words, visiting is most important for patients.

I therefore ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether she considers that it is easy to make a journey of at least 120 miles return. Is it not a fact that Dartford is well equipped with hospitals? Surely, in 1960, it is possible to do better than to face a boy like this with a wait of twelve months or even longer before he can get into a hospital locally.

If the Parliamentary Secretary tells me something different, if she tells me that it will not be long before the boy gets into hospital locally, the news will be greatly welcomed by many people in the Belvedere district, which I represent. Therefore, I make no apology for raising this matter, for it affects not merely Ronald Meloy, but others who may be afflicted in the same way and who, I hope, as a result of this matter being raised, will not have to undergo the loneliness and misery that is now the lot of Ronald Meloy.

11.48 p.m.

Photo of Miss Edith Pitt Miss Edith Pitt , Birmingham, Edgbaston

The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) brought this case to the notice of my right hon. Friend the Minister in a detailed letter, which I have read, dated 26th October. The hon. Member then advised us on 2nd November that he proposed to raise the matter on the Adjournment. I make no complaint of that. The hon. Member has every right to raise the matter in the House and, as he said, to debate in the House of Commons the case of one humble person. It means, however, that I have not been able to make as full an inquiry as possible, because there has not been the time available to give the full answer that I should wish to give and which the hon. Member hopes to receive from me. Nevertheless, I have obtained all the information that is possible up to this stage.

From the inquiries which we have been able to make of the hospital authority, the Kent County Council and Ronald's family doctor, the history of the case is as follows. Ronald Meloy, now aged 16, suffers from muscular dystrophy. He has the use of his arms and hands but has no power in his back or legs and requires two people to lift him. Until recently, he was living with his parents, as the hon. Member said, and attending a school for physically handicapped children at Hither Green.

Because of the increase in his disability and difficulties connected with his transport to and from the school, the question was raised in 1958 of his admission to some form of institution, but his parents wanted him to say at home and go to school as long as possible. In July this year because of domestic difficulties which arose because his mother was no longer at home and the fact that he would have to leave school at 16, inquiries were set afoot as to the possibility of some form of residential accommodation, and on 21st July the Kent County Medical Officer of Health wrote to the South-East Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board asking for assistance in finding a placement. There was a waiting list for the muscular dystrophy unit at Joyce Green Hospital, which was obviously suitable and convenient, and the Board was asked if it could suggest some other suitable place. On 12th August the boy was placed on the waiting list for the muscular dystrophy unit at Joyce Green, and inquiries were made as to the possibility of other accommodation. The boy was well known in the Woolwich group of hospitals as he had attended the orthopaedic clinic at Woolwich.

It was then learned that the domestic crisis had passed, the mother having returned home, and that the parents did not want Ronald to go away from home. Early in September the domestic difficulty occurred again, and it became urgent to find some place for the boy. On 14th September arrangements were made for him to go to the long-stay orthopaedic unit at the Royal Sea Bathing Hospital, Margate, as a temporary measure till more suitable accommodation could be found. Meanwhile, no vacancy had arisen at Joyce Green and the Almoner at Margate eventually arranged for his admission to Ashley House, the Shaftesbury Society home at Bognor Regis. He went there on 25th October.

The Kent County Council as welfare authority has accepted financial liability for Ronald's maintenance while he is at Ashley House and is meeting the cost. That is the present position.

There are a number of points to be made. In the first place it seems that the need for residential accommodation arose because of the difficulties in the home occurring in September. Secondly, it appears that all those concerned, the family doctor, the County Council, the hospital authorities and the voluntary organisations, did all that they could to meet the immediate emergency. I think it fair to point out that there was no lack of attention by all those bodies, and that action was in fact taken straight away.

In his letters of 26th, 29th and 31st October to my right hon. Friend the hon. Gentleman makes the point first that Ronald has been on the waiting list for the muscular dystrophy unit at Joyce Green Hospital for nearly two years. He repeated it tonight. This is not the case. In 1958 there was some talk of finding institutional accommodation for the boy and the possibility of admitting him to the Muscular Dystrophy Unit then at the Southern Hospital, since transferred to Joyce Green when the Southern was closed, was mentioned, but his parents wanted him to stay at home and carry on with his schooling. Ronald was put on the waiting list on 12th August, 1960, as a consequence of the domestic difficulties arising in July. Later in August these difficulties, as I have explained, disappeared and the parents again wanted him to stay at home. Early in September the mother left home for the second time and emergency measures became necessary, the boy being admitted to the Royal Sea Bathing Hospital, Margate, on 14th September as a temporary measure.

The hon. Gentleman secondly made the point in his letter to my right hon. Friend that it was inhuman to take Ronald so far away from his home when there is one of the largest conglomerations of hospitals in the area in which he lived, and the Southern Hospital at Dartford had been closed.

When for social reasons some form of institutional care became necessary, the hospital authorities did the best they could in the circumstances by getting him into Margate. The closure of the Southern Hospital did not make any difference. The reason why it was closed was that both it and Joyce Green Hospital had a very large surplus of unoccupied accommodation and it was decided to close the Southern and transfer the services and facilities from there to Joyce Green Hospital.

I understand that Ronald is being well cared for and is reasonably happy at Ashley House where he is in the company of boys of his own age. However, I recognise that it is a long way for the father and other relatives to go to visit him and certainly I would not claim that it can be easy for them to do so. Moreover, I understand that the authorities at Ashley House will be able to keep him only for a limited period. The hospital authorities have now to consider with the county council what other suitable permanent arrangements can be made for the boy in the light of an up-to-date assessment of his condition and needs.

He is still on the waiting list for Joyce Green Hospital, but the muscular distrophy unit there has only ten beds and there is a waiting list of four of which Ronald is third in order of application. Vacancies in such a unit do not occur frequently but I would explain, as the hon. Member has particularly raised the point, that when a vacancy arises all cases waiting are assessed on need. Priority of admission will not be determined by the date on which they were placed on the waiting list.

The Regional Hospital Board says that the other three are certainly meritorious cases and points out that Ronald Meloy's need arises on social rather than on medical grounds. I am afraid that I cannot yet tell the hon. Member what the outcome will be, but I am sure that he will recognise that the authorities are faced with a difficult problem. It is not possible to provide special units for this relatively small class of patients so that all of them will be near to their homes. Some degree of concentration is inevitable. It is indeed the same problem as that of the younger chronic sick where one has to balance the desirability of accommodating them near their homes for ease of visiting against the desirability of collecting them together so that they will all be among others of their own age. But I can assure the hon. Member that I will keep in touch with the Regional Board over this case and I will let him know as soon as satisfactory permanent arrangements can be made to care for this boy.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

Order. The Question is, "That this House do now adjourn." The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) has already spoken once on this Motion.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at two minutes to Twelve o'clock.