§ 9. Mr. Sproat
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what is the average length of time between the date information is given to a special investigator of his Department regarding alleged abuse and the date that a special investigator investigates the alleged abuse.
§ The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Stanley Orme)
An assessment of the current position on special investigation is possible at the beginning of each year. The figures for the beginning of 1977 are not yet available but an analysis of the position as at 1st January 1976 indicated that in five of the Department's 12 regions cases referred by local offices for special investigation could be allocated immediately to a special investigator. In six of the regions the average delay in doing this was between 2.1 weeks and 4.6 weeks; in the remaining region the data was not available.
§ Mr. Sproat
Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that through no fault of the Department there is a delay, quite often of up to six months, between the time when an alleged incident of fraud occurs and the time when the special investigator is able to start investigating it? In view of these very long delays, and in view of the enormous backlog which develops, is not this an impossible job for many of the investigators? Will the right hon. Gentleman increase the number of special investigators, who, experience proves, recover the equivalent of their own wages within a matter of weeks?
§ Mr. Orme
I find it rather strange that the hon. Gentleman should be complaining to me about the work of special investigators and about the need for more of them. For example, the 765 cases which the hon. Gentleman sent to me resulted in many of the special investigators being diverted from the work they were doing and on which they had 10 times more success than they had with 1224 regard to the cases that the hon. Gentleman submitted.
§ Mr. Robert Hughes
Has my right hon. Friend noticed that one national newspaper has nicknamed the hon. Gentleman "Deep Sproat"? Does that make the hon. Gentleman the Linda Lovelace of the Tory Party since he is someone who is willing to swallow anything he is told?
§ Mr. Orme
I would say to my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite that the painstaking investigation that we had into the hon. Gentleman's complaints puts into perspective the type of campaign that the hon. Gentleman has been waging. I hope that the country will recognise that there is no basis for it.
§ Mrs. Bain
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are many people in the House who have little respect for the views of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat)? Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that much more concern should be given to the question of helping the genuine cases of people who are in need of supplementary benefit and services from the DHSS? Is it not the fact that as a result of the hon. Gentleman's campaign many cases are not being taken up as soon as they should be?
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
Since many of the right hon. Gentleman's answers have been about unsubstantiated allegations, does he recall that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made an allegation on 19th November that a number of doctors at Hammersmith Hospital had been engaging in malpractices? Does he now recognise that that allegation has been disapproved entirely?
§ Mr. Speaker
I want to be fair. We are dealing with Social Services Questions, and the subject covers health. The right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) may proceed with his supplementary question.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
As the Minister of State knows, this Question is about alleged abuse, and the Secretary of State made a very grave allegation of alleged abuse against doctors at Hammersmith Hospital. As that has now been disproved wholly, will the right hon. Gentleman now apologise?
§ Mr. Orme
This is an abuse of Question Time, Mr. Speaker. My right hon. Friend made no such allegation. He said merely that he would investigate allegations which had been made. The right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) has no right to put his supplementary question in that context.
§ Mr. Michael Stewart
Would it be possible for investigators to get on to the track of real abuses more quickly if their time was not wasted by having to investigate groundless allegations made by mean-spirited and irresponsible people?