Dáil Éireann - Volume 68 - 14 June, 1937
Dublin Hospitals Bill, 1937—Second Stage.
Minister for Local Government and Public Health (Mr. O Ceallaigh) Minister for Local Government and Public Health (Mr. O Ceallaigh)
Minister for Local Government and Public Health (Mr. O Ceallaigh): I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. The purpose of this Bill is to abolish the Board of Superintendence which was set up in pursuance of the Dublin Hospitals Regulation Act, 1856, to inspect and visit Dublin  hospitals in receipt of Government grants, and to report annually on the manner in which they were maintained and managed. Five years ago the grants ceased to be voted for these hospitals, with one exception, the Westmoreland Lock Hospital. This hospital has no revenue from other sources, and an annual grant of £2,600 is provided in the Vote for the Department of Local Government and Public Health. The Board of Superintendence have no longer any functions in regard to the hospitals for which grants were formerly provided, and its retention for the purpose of the supervision of the Westmoreland Lock Hospital is not necessary.
In these circumstances it is proposed to abolish the board and to transfer any assets or liabilities it may have to the Hospitals Commission. With the abolition of the board, the post of secretary will cease. Section 6 of the Bill enables a gratuity to be paid to him on ceasing to hold office. The Bill does not repeal the whole of the Act of 1856. The first ten sections, which remain unrepealed, relate to the house of industry hospitals, that is, the Richmond, Whitworth and Hardwicke hospitals.
Dr. Rowlette Dr. Rowlette
Dr. Rowlette: There are one or two points in connection with this Bill which I think the Minister might explain a little further. It proposes to transfer certain properties to the Hospitals Commission. The Board of Superintendence has been, of course, a permanent body since its establishment. I do not know that anybody is contemplating the Hospitals Commission as a permanent body. Certainly, there is nothing in the statute upon which it rests which suggests that it would be a permanent body. All its statutory functions are concerned with the distribution of funds coming from what is, presumably, a temporary expedient, the Hospitals Sweepstakes. I think it is generally assumed that once the Hospitals Sweepstakes cease to be held, the Hospitals Commission will cease to function. The Hospitals Sweepstakes were instituted for the purpose of helping voluntary hospitals. The scope of their work has, of course, been extended, but it has been calculated  by those in charge of the sweepstakes that the primary purpose of their establishment, the equipment and endowment of the voluntary hospitals, will be achieved through the sweepstakes, if their income is to continue at anything like the present rate, in another two or three years. In that case, one would expect that the functions of the Hospitals Commission would then cease.
It may be that the Minister has decided to keep the Hospitals Commission in being for other purposes. I am not questioning the propriety of such a step in certain circumstances, but I do suggest that if the Hospitals Commission is to be kept on as a permanent body, this House ought to have an opportunity of discussing its scope and its functions. On its establishment the Hospitals Commission, it was understood, would undertake the same duties, but on a wider scope, as had previously been fulfilled by the Committee of Reference in regard to sweepstakes, that is to say, that they should investigate the question of the allocation of funds—certainly on a wider scope than their predecessors— that they should make recommendations to the Minister and that the Minister, if satisfied, should act on their recommendations. What has actually happened in practice is something quite different. The recommendations of the Committee of Reference were acted upon almost automatically by the Minister. The recommendations of the Hospitals Commission, a much stronger body, which has given a much wider and a much deeper study to the question than its predecessors, are subjected to the scrutiny of the Minister's own Department, with the result that there has been a degree of delay in carrying on the work of the Hospitals Commission. I suggest that the members of the Hospitals Commission are far more competent to advise the Minister on this matter than the officials of his Department. They have given particular study to this question. However inexperienced the members of the commission may have been when they were appointed some years ago, they have now gained a very wide  experience. They are in a position to exercise a very sound judgment and to take very long views as well as very wide views. They are thoroughly expert on the whole question of the hospital system of the country. Yet their recommendations are submitted to the judgment of a body of permanent officials who, whatever their qualifications for dealing with the ordinary routine work of their offices, have no expert qualifications for dealing with voluntary hospitals.
Up to the present the voluntary hospitals have been entirely out of their purview. They have had no opportunity of studying the principle of the voluntary hospital system, but apparently they are to sit in judgment over a body which has become expert in this matter in the last few years, a body to which everybody concerned with the hospitals feels extremely grateful. That has resulted in considerable delays, delays due to the fact that the recommendations of a body of authority have to be revised by a body of lesser authority, because they happen to be the Minister's permanent officials. I am not criticising the competence of the Minister's officials to deal with the ordinary duties of the Department, but I do suggest that they cannot be as expert on questions affecting hospital management as the Hospitals Commission, which was specially created to deal with this matter. If the Hospitals Commission is to receive a permanent standing, as seems to be implied by this Bill, I think the House should have an opportunity of considering what its functions will be in future and whether effect will be given to its recommendations.
The other point to which I wish to call attention has reference to Section 6 of the Bill in which it is provided that, in the event of an application being made to the Minister by the person, who is the holder of the office of secretary to the Board of Superintendence, for compensation in respect of the abolition of his office,
“the Minister may direct the Hospitals Commission to pay to such person such sum, not exceeding  £150 as the Minister in his absolute discretion shall think proper.”
When the Minister introduced this Bill last week, he was asked by the Leader of the Opposition what would be the position of the secretary of the board, and the Minister replied that his position would be safeguarded. That seems to me to have been a very optimistic statement, certainly over-optimistic from the point of view of the secretary. The secretary receives a salary of £150 a year. His appointment has, in fact, been a permanent appointment. It has always been held for life up to the present. That is to say, the secretary on appointment held office until he chose to resign or until he died. Men who were older than the present secretary on appointment have held the office up to extreme old age. It is proposed that the present holder of the office is to be retired and that he will simply receive one year's salary as compensation. I do not know whether the Minister has come to any arrangement with this gentleman or not. It is possible he has, and that the fact that the retiring official has accepted one year's salary instead of a permanent pension represents a degree of self-sacrifice on his part. The compensation awarded in this case is in curious contrast to that given to a certain other retiring official recently who did not hold a permanent office and who was due to retire in another year and a half. It seems to me that, unless this official has consented to this arrangement, the House should demand that something more than a paltry year's salary should be awarded to an official on the compulsory abolition of what is in effect a permanent appointment. It seems unfortunate that this Bill which opens up one very important general question, namely, the position of the Hospitals Commission, and which also deals with the question of importance for the official concerned, should be brought forward in the expiring hours of this Dáil.
Mr. O Ceallaigh Mr. O Ceallaigh
Mr. O Ceallaigh: What Deputy Rowlette  said about the Hospitals Commission not being a permanent body is, I suppose true, but it is for the time being permanent so far as the statute of this House can make it. But it is quite correct that one never knows how long the Hospitals Sweepstakes will continue. At any rate, whether the Hospitals Sweepstakes continue in the present form or not, the moneys already accumulated will continue, and there will have to be some body to control and direct and advise on the disposition of the moneys now held by the trustees. It is likely that if the commission be not permanent in its present shape, some body of the same kind will probably exist for many years to come. While perhaps in the strict sense of the word it would not now be regarded as what one would call a permanent body, some body of the kind will continue to exist to advise on and administer the funds that will be for many years at the disposition of whatever body this House appoints to control those funds.
On this Bill I do not want to go into a discussion on the Hospitals Commission or its work. We had a recent opportunity to discuss it, and I am sure there will be many opportunities again in the future. I should only like to say it is my belief that no unnecessary and certainly no avoidable delay has taken place in implementing the recommendations of the Hospitals Commission. With regard to the position of the secretary to this board, the board has not functioned now for, I think, five years. In comparison with the amount of work, whatever it was, that was supposed to be done by the secretary in years gone by, taking the number of hospitals that used to be under the control of the board into account, there has not been one-tenth of that work to be done in the last five years or so, but it is true that the secretary to the Board of Superintendence held a permanent position. At any rate, in the Department of Local Government we do not regard a permanent position, if it is not whole-time, as pensionable, and certainly this was not a whole-time position, because the  gentleman who held it also held several other appointments. It is not our practice in the Department of Local Government in connection with any public body of that kind—certainly with regard to officials of local bodies —to regard posts which are permanent but not whole-time as pensionable.
Dr. Rowlette Dr. Rowlette
Dr. Rowlette: What about dispensary doctors?
Mr. O Ceallaigh Mr. O Ceallaigh
Mr. O Ceallaigh: If the Deputy will allow me, I was about to make a few exceptions. Dispensary doctors are the outstanding exception. There used to be more exceptions under different statutes up to 1925. The Local Government Act, 1925, brought in a new system of dealing with people holding positions not exactly similar, but on a basis similar to the post held by the secretary to the Board of Superintendence. It is the practice not to regard officials of that type as pensionable, if they are not whole-time officials, and this gentleman cannot so be regarded. There was no discussion with him; there was no arrangement with him. It was suggested by the Department that in the ordinary course, if the office of an official of that type were being abolished, certainly, under the Local Government Act, 1925, dealing with local authorities, there would be no power even to give him a gratuity, but it was suggested then that a gratuity of one year's salary— especially as, if my information is correct, the gentleman is very advanced in years—would probably meet the position.
Question put and agreed to.
Dáil Éireann 68 Dublin Hospitals Bill, 1937—Second Stage.