Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is not it a convention of the House that the Minister has 15 minutes to reply to an Adjournment debate?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: There is no such rule, but I would expect that a Minister would be given a reasonable time in which to answer. I do not think that the time now available to the Minister is reasonable.

1.26 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Jeff Rooker): I have exactly four minutes. When the debate started, everybody knew that it had to finish at 1.30 pm.

I shall address two key points raised by the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill). On the cattle movement service, we lost six weeks because the previous Government did not complete the arrangements to appoint the consultants, which they could have done before the general election. No final decision has yet been taken on charging for the cattle movement service. The location at Workington was the cheapest for running costs. I am conscious of that, as the farmers will have to pay the running costs in the end. It was also the only option where I could guarantee that staff could be recruited.

The previous Government said that the set-up costs would be met by central Government. I must emphasise that we have not announced the decision on that. It is quite wrong for people to assume that we have. People are going up and down the country, on one radio station

18 Feb 1998 : Column 1058

after another, telling us what the Government have announced and decided. Nowhere have we announced any decision regarding start-up costs. We have still to make that announcement, and will do so in due course.

On specified risk materials, I announced on 19 November that charges could be up to £48 million. I announced that in front of a Standing Committee. I was not questioned about it by a single Conservative Member. Since 1 January--when the conditions came into effect, but not the charges--experience has shown that the real costs will be nothing like as high. We are still consulting, as the hon. Gentleman knows. A letter was issued on 6 February. The consultation ends on 2 March. The decision on charges will not be made until the consultation has finished.

I regret that some parts of the industry refuse to pay the existing Meat Hygiene Service charges, which is causing problems of undercutting costs and unfair competition. I was at a medium-sized abattoir yesterday in Staffordshire, which had a high hygiene assessment score and has invested in new equipment. Why should a good firm be undermined by crooked companies--bucket shop companies--refusing to pay? We are looking urgently at bad debt to the Meat Hygiene Service to see what action can be taken. I am not prepared to see the good side of the industry unfairly disadvantaged.

There are problems with sanctions. The key sanction would be for us to ask the Meat Hygiene Service to refuse to health-mark the goods. There may be problems with the European Union about that, but the situation cannot be allowed to continue with one part of the industry placing unfair burdens on the other. I repeat that consultation on those charges is still under way, and it would be wrong for anyone to draw a conclusion.

As for the hooligans outside the television studio on Sunday, such people do the farming industry no good whatever. Had they been outside a football ground, they would have been charged.

18 Feb 1998 : Column 1059

Mr. Noel Smith

1.29 pm

Mr. Eddie O'Hara (Knowsley, South): I wish to draw to the House's attention the case of a life that has been grievously damaged as a result of treatment by the health services, mostly under the national health service. There has been no redress to that damage, and no one has yet been prepared to take responsibility for it.

Noel Frank Smith, a constituent of mine, was born in Liverpool on Christmas day 1922--Noel was a Christmas baby. At an early stage, he suffered rheumatic fever, and in 1929, at the age of six, he was admitted to Myrtle Street children's hospital. On examination by a specialist cardiologist, a disorder of the heart was diagnosed--mitral valve disease. The prognosis was that he was unlikely to live beyond his teens, and he was told to avoid strenuous exercise.

The prognosis had drastic consequences for the rest of his life. He could not lead the life of a normal child, and had regularly to visit to his general practitioner, who prescribed glyceryl trinitrate, a vasodilator designed to decrease his blood pressure to prevent strain being put on the supposedly defective valve in his heart.

Mr. Smith's job prospects and earning capacity were curtailed. There was less sympathy and provision for chronic invalids in those days. In short, his quality and standard of life have been affected, as has provision for his old age. Worse still, his painful treatment has had lasting side effects. He now suffers from degeneration of the cell walls around his veins. To put it in his words, his blood vessels are now like a leaky boat. He suffers much discomfort and pain as a result of the pooling of fluids in his legs. He has also developed glaucoma, which he maintains is because his eyes have reacted to his treatment in the same way as the rest of his vascular system.

After his initial diagnosis in 1929, Mr. Smith did not see another heart specialist until 1981, when he attended Broadgreen hospital in Liverpool with a chest infection. After tests, he was advised that he did not have a heart complaint, and that the diagnosis of mitral heart disease made 52 years previously had been wrong. His understandable reaction was to instruct a solicitor to prepare a claim against the cardiologist who had made the false diagnosis. However, he was given counsel's opinion that there was no evidence of negligence, and therefore no ground for a claim.

Mr. Smith subsequently received a second and contrary opinion based on a number of points, including the fact that, when the misdiagnosis was first discovered, the lasting damage to his health was not clear or known, and that he had not been examined by a cardiologist in the 52 years between the initial diagnosis in 1929 and the second opinion in 1981. I ask the House to consider 52 years of repeat prescriptions for serious drugs for a supposed heart disorder.

However, there was an obstacle to Mr. Smith's pursuit of a claim for compensation: he had no access to his medical records. His battle for access to his records was conducted first by Eddie Loyden, the Member of Parliament in whose constituency of Garsden he lived when the misdiagnosis was discovered, and thereafter, when he went to live in Knowsley, by my predecessor, the late Sean Hughes. The matter had not been resolved when I entered Parliament in 1990 and picked up the case.

18 Feb 1998 : Column 1060

There were three aspects to the story of Mr. Smith's records. First, in 1983, shortly after the discovery of the misdiagnosis, the medical records mysteriously disappeared. They were withdrawn by the medical practitioners unit at Princes road, Liverpool, and mysteriously went to Hertfordshire. A strange story was told about someone registering and claiming benefit, fraudulently using Mr. Smith's national insurance number. It was not until 1985 that the records eventually returned. Secondly, there was the battle to gain access to the medical records. That was pursued, but when Mr. Smith eventually gained access to them, key sections were missing. The whole story is mysterious and sinister.

The third aspect, in which I have been most involved, is trying to get to the bottom of what happened to the missing records. I pursued the complaint as far as the health service commissioner in 1996. His response was interesting. He gave three reasons for being unable to help: first, that the complaint was out of time--of course it was out of time by now, given that Mr. Smith had been battling steadily throughout the intervening time; secondly, that he could not become involved because of the possibility of legal action arising from the case; and, thirdly, that there was little practical point, after such a lapse of time, in trying to get to the bottom of how the records had mysteriously disappeared. And that was that.

There is yet another cruel twist to the tale. With or without his medical records, Mr. Smith does not have the means to pursue a claim without legal aid. That has been denied, not least because, after the long battle to get hold of his records, deficient as they are, the claim is statute barred, so he cannot have legal aid. The battle for Mr. Smith's right to pursue his claim through the law courts is a sub-plot with which I shall not burden the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), but it is a subject for a whole Adjournment debate. Suffice to say that it has not yet been resolved.

One can choose the best cliche to describe Mr. Smith's experience: catch-22; Greek tragedy; or Kafkaesque. It is a catch-22 in that he could not pursue his case without his records, but by the time be got them he was statute barred. It is a Greek tragedy in that Mr. Smith has suffered a rare misfortune on a epic scale, and his twists and turns to alleviate his fate have been doomed to constant and, by now to me, predictable failure, given all the avenues that I have pursued on his behalf. There is no catharsis or relief in this drama because this is not vicarious drama; it is a real life ruined. It is Kafkaesque in that Mr. Smith has been shunted in bureaucratic circles, with functionaries who refer to and reinforce each other but do not address the issue--the ruin of Mr. Smith's life.

One could not blame Mr. Smith for concluding that the whole bureaucratic edifice is designed to serve itself and so thwart the individual. I hold what I thought was a common-sense view: that, if no one in the system will accept responsibility for the wrong done to Mr. Smith, the ultimate responsibility rests with the Secretary of State; but successive Secretaries of State have declined to acknowledge that.

I leave the last word to Mr. Smith:


18 Feb 1998 : Column 1061

    that they would inform me why I was treated for the serious heart complaint that I was mistakenly diagnosed as suffering from for 54 years of my life and also the drastic medical treatment that has caused me so much pain and injury.


    I know that I am entitled to an explanation and answer to these questions. I also know that I am entitled to compensation for the pain and injury that I am suffering to this day."

I am pleased to have a Minister at the Dispatch Box to respond to the debate. He is a sympathetic Minister, and I hold him in high regard. I realise that he is only the most recent of a succession of Ministers who have been approached about this case. I look forward at least to a positive and sympathetic response to this exceptional story of a ruined life, but I urge him to institute an inquiry into this sorry matter.


Next Section

IndexHome Page