Edith Summerskill – 1972 Speech on Whittingham Hospital

The speech made by Edith Summerskill, the then Shadow Secretary of State for Social Services, in the House of Commons on 15 February 1972.

The right hon. Gentleman is to be thanked for the forthright and clear way in which he has presented the report. In view of the extremely serious and shocking revelations in it, will he accept that the recommendations should be implemented as soon as possible? Will he bear in mind the deep concern of all hon. Members that the report is the latest in a succession of hospital scandals, following as it does the 1968 inquiry into the “Sans Everything” allegations, the 1969 Ely Hospital inquiry and last year’s Farleigh Hospital inquiry?

As we are dealing with the most vulnerable in the community, who are entirely dependent on the compassion or the disciplined care of others, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman four specific questions.

First, what immediate steps will the right hon. Gentleman take to ensure that not only in Whittingham but in similar hospitals there is from now on first-class, efficient management and co-ordination between hospital management committees, regional hospital boards and medical nursing administrators?

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman take immediate steps to increase the inspection of all such hospitals by the General Nursing Council at more frequent intervals and encourage a more rapid turnover of staff, periodically bringing in new staff from outside, because in such hospitals the staff become as institutionalised as the patients?

Thirdly, will the Secretary of State encourage the more active rehabilitation of long-stay chronic or psycho-geriatric patients, with increased transfer to community care, and will he consider giving greater powers to his proposed community health councils in the forthcoming reorganisation of the National Health Service?

Fourthly, we note no mention in the right hon. Gentleman’s statement of the Ombudsman. Will he recognise that there is public anxiety about the lack of investigation of complaints into the National Health Service and that his Committee to investigate the role and setup of the Hospital Advisory Service is no substitute for a hospital Ombudsman, because such complaints need an independent procedure outside the National Health Service? Will he seriously consider the setting up of a hospital commissioner?