HC Deb 20 June 1960 vol 625 cc29-32
39. Dr. D. Johnson

asked the Minister of Health whether it is now his intention to admit to National Health Service hospitals healers who claim to cure disease by super-normal means for the purpose of their administering treatment to patients therein.

49. Mr. K. Robinson

asked the Minister of Health what guidance he has given, or proposes to give, to hospital management committees regarding the admittance of members of the National Federation of Spiritual Healers into hospitals for the purpose of treating National Health Service patients; and how many management committees permit these activities at the present time.

Mr. Walker-Smith

I have not given guidance to hospital management committees, as I consider on present advice that the visiting of patients, is a matter which should be left to the hospital authority's discretion, in the light of the views of the doctor in charge of the particular patient who has asked for the visit. While I do not know the practice of individual committees, they are generally aware of my view.

Dr. Johnson

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware, however, that the Federation of Spiritual Healers are making extensive claims in this matter and are saying that they are entering hospitals to give treatment by permission of the regional hospital boards? Does not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, if this is so, it is a matter for his decision and not one to be left to the regional hospital boards? We look to him for guidance and a decision in the matter.

Mr. Walker-Smith

I have no responsibility for any claims made by this Federation or any other body. There are two requisites here; first, that the patient must ask for any such visit before it can be contemplated, and, secondly, that the hospital authority must exercise its discretion with due regard to the views of the doctor in charge of the case.

Mr. Robinson

Has the Minister seen the view expressed unanimously by the British Medical Association at its annual conference, condemning the introduction of these healers into hospitals? I do not want to express a view one way or the other about the merits of the Federation, but does not the Minister think that this is a matter in which he should give guidance to hospital authorities rather than leave the decision to individual authorities? Is he aware that these healers are now reported to be present in 50 per cent. of the hospitals run by management committees?

Mr. Walker-Smith

I have seen recent Press reports about the proceedings of the British Medical Association, but I have not yet received any representations following therefrom. As for general guidance, if I am right as to the factors governing these cases, it must always ultimately be a matter for local decision, in the light of those factors. Therefore, general guidance, beyond what I have already said, would not appear to be appropriate.

Dr. Summerskill

This is an important matter. Did I understand the Minister to say that a regional hospital board can make a decision in favour of these visits but that a doctor can refuse only in a specific case? Can a doctor refuse to have a spiritual healer attending any of his cases on the ground of principle?

Mr. Walker-Smith

The question does not arise in the first place unless and until the patient concerned asks for the visit. That having been done, it is a matter for the discretion of the hospital authority whether or not the visit will be sanctioned. In coming to that decision the hospital authority will give due weight to the opinion of the doctor in charge of the case.

Mr. Paget

As a matter of religious liberty, if someone in a hospital wants a chap to come and pray over him, why should not he be allowed to have him?

Mr. Walker-Smith

The hon. and learned Member has put the issue with his characteristic gift for over-simplification. I am not out of sympathy with what he says, but clinical matters are also involved, and that is where the view of the doctor comes in. I am certain that with a commonsense and compassionate application of the principles to which I have referred justice can properly be done in each of the circumstances, but according to the local considerations involved.

Mr. G. H. R. Rogers

Is the Minister aware that thousands of spiritualists regard this as a matter of religious liberty and feel that just as a Catholic is entitled to have his priest so is a spiritualist entitled to have the benefit of the spiritual 'healer's help? In view of the ignorance of this subject shown by my hon. and learned Friend, will the Minister consider initiating, at his own leisure, an impartial inquiry into the validity of the claims of spiritual healers?

Mr. Walker-Smith

That would take us considerably further than the matters with which we are specifically concerned in these Questions. I am quite ready to look further into these important matters, but I doubt whether we shall get beyond the position that I have enunciated, of leaving it to the discretion of hospital authorities, taking account of the two basic considerations to which I have referred.