I am sure I speak for the whole House when I express my deep sympathy with the parents of Seema Bhola in their tragic loss.
I have made urgent inquiries as to the circumstances of her death. The first approach to the National Health Service was an emergency call from the police for an ambulance at two minutes past seven on Tuesday evening. The ambulance left within a minute and arrived at the patient's home at seven minutes past seven, which was within five minutes of receiving the call. At that time the police were already giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, which was then continued by the ambulance staff.
It was known that the accident and emergency departments at Hillingdon Hospital and at Mount Vernon Hospital were closed to ambulance cases, but the ambulance officers also knew that some emergency cases arriving at the door were being seen at Mount Vernon Hospital.
The ambulance drivers were informed that no doctor was available at Mount Vernon Hospital after they had gone one mile, but as they were then passing Hillingdon Hospital they turned into the hospital but were then redirected by the ambulance control to Wexham Park Hospital. On arrival, at 33 minutes past seven, Seema Bhola was then seen by a casualty officer and found to be dead. The exact time of death is uncertain.
An opening inquest will take place tomorrow at High Wycombe, and the coroner has decided to hold a full inquest at a date yet to be determined.
Some of the reports suggest a conflict of evidence, and I have therefore asked for an immediate report from the Hillingdon Area Health Authority, and I shall then consider whether to hold a formal inquiry.
I should like to associate myself with the Minister in expressing deep sympathy with the parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bhola, on the loss of their young child.
Does the Secretary of State realise that in the eyes of my constituents and millions of decent people it is her responsibility—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—I repeat, it is her responsibility to see that patients can gain immediate admission to hospital in an emergency? Does the Minister realise that, whatever the rights and wrongs of the dispute with the doctors, it is the Secretary of State's duty to ensure—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—that the hospitals are open night and day? Does not the Secretary of State agree that the time has come to resolve the unhappy dispute with the doctors so that my constituents can gain admission to hospital when they need urgent treatment?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State expresses her deep sympathy. The reason she cannot be here to answer the Question is that she is preparing to see the junior hospital doctors at just about this moment in a further attempt to resolve the dispute.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will carefully consider whether he should withdraw what he said. Under the perfectly normal procedure of the House, to bring to the attention of the House concern about a constituent's case, concern which we all share, the hon. Gentleman has taken the opportunity to make a serious allegation against my right hon. Friend. At a time when the whole House wants a resolution of the dispute, he has personalised the attack in a political and—as I think most people outside the House will feel—a disgraceful way. I make this plea to the hon. Gentleman in all sincerity. It will not help the atmosphere, either in the resolution of the wider dispute in the country or in dealing with the tragic circumstances of the death of this child, if personalised attacks of that sort are made. I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw that allegation.
Order. I had serious doubts whether I should allow this Question. I thought it right to allow it so that we could possibly ascertain the facts, in the chance that by ascertaining the facts in this case a similar tragedy might be avoided. I had no intention of allowing it to become an argument on the merits of the doctors' dispute.
Dr. M. S. Miller:
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. As you have allowed an hon. Member to make a personal attack on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, and have not permitted an expression of view from this side of the House, I believe that you should allow an hon. Member on the Labour Benches to put a point of view which contradicts that advanced by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby).
Order. I listened carefully, and the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) did not say that. However, he brought in the whole question of the hospital dispute. He did not make the direct suggestion that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) claims. I would not have allowed him to do so.
The hon. Gentleman said that the responsibility for this situation rested on my right hon. Friend. I am certain that any hon. Member who thinks about the matter will not accept that proposition. I ask the Leader of the Opposition to make a statement dissociating herself from the standards and shameful remarks of her hon. Friend. If she does not—[Interruption.]
I hope that the House will calm down. It is a difficult problem for the Chair to know when to allow a Private Notice Question. In this instance I considered it proper to do so as I thought that some facts might be brought out which might obviate a similar tragic event. I allowed the hon. Member for Uxbridge to ask a supplementary question and there was a robust reply from the Minister. I think that the House would be much wiser to move on to the business questions.