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

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

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Photo of Miss Edith Pitt Miss Edith Pitt , Birmingham, Edgbaston 12:00 am, 8th November 1960

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.