Severe Censure – Denaby Doctor Arouses Doncaster Magistrates Displeasure

September 1923

Mexborough & Swinton Times, September 8 th 1923

Severe Censure

Denaby Doctor Arouses Doncaster Magistrates Displeasure

Issue of School Children´s Certificates

Dr. McArthur, the Medical Officer of Health to the Conisbrough Urban District Council, received a severe censure from the Doncaster West Riding Magistrates on Tuesday on account of his issue of a certificate regarding a Denaby child´s irregular attendance at school.

The case had stood adjourned on three occasions. The parent summoned was George Duffty, a Denaby miner. The first hearing was on August 9 th , but an adjournment to the following Tuesday, and then to August 21 st , was granted in order to allow of the parents producing a medical certificate in respect of the child. On the last-named date, the defendant produced a certificate, signed by Dr. McArthur, stating that the child had been unable to attend school as he was suffering from whooping cough and influenza. Mr. W. H. Jones, the Divisional Clerk, alleged that he received a hundred such certificates every week from Dr. McArthur and further alleged laxity in their issue.

The Bench, on account of these statements, made another adjournment of the case and ordered that Dr. McArthur be subpoenaed to attend and explain the issuing of the certificate.

On Tuesday, Mr. G. B. Cooke Yarborough presided over the Bench. Mrs. Duffty appeared to answer the summons, and Dr. McArthur was present with Mr. Spencer Baker, solicitor, on his behalf.

Charles Smith, attendance officer for the Denaby area, said that out of 114 attendances possible between April 13 th , and July 6 th , the child in question made 87. He had attended some part of every week during that period and generally missed just one or two attendances per week.

The certificate, signed by Dr. McArthur, and read by the Clerk (Mr. E. W. Pettifer), contained the following: “This is to certify that William Stevens was suffering from whooping cough and influenza, and was not able to attend school during the past six months”. It was dated August 21 st .

Alice Duffty, the child´s mother, said that the whooping cough started in the beginning of May and lasted about six weeks. She sent the child to school intermittently during that period. After his recovery he had an attack of influenza lasting about three weeks, and she kept him at home a whole week in June on that account. She got a certificate produced from Dr. McArthur on August 21 st the morning of the day on which the case was last adjourned.

Dr. McArthur said that he examined the child early in May, when he was suffering from whooping cough. He should have been absent from school continuously during the time it lasted.

In answer to the Clerk, the doctor said that whooping cough was not a notifiable infectious disease. It ought to be, in his opinion.

Answering the chairman, the doctor said he did not ask the mother, when she applied for the certificate how many attendances he had made.

Mr. Baker: It was stated at the last hearing that you gave out a hundred of these certificates every week. Is that true?

Dr. McArthur: It is not.

In reply to further questions by the chairman, the doctor said he had not seen the child since the end of May. He knew for what purpose the certificate was required.

Mr. Yarborough: You didn´t ask Mrs. Duffty when the child had been away from school? – I didn´t.

“Then how come you to give a certificate in these words without having seen the child since the end of May or making an enquiry about it? – I had been attending the boy.

Not since May! You gave a certificate which read that the child was not able to attend school during the six months. How do you justify that? Did you simply assume that he didn´t attend school? – No! I meant to infer that the child was not fit to attend for some part of the six months.

Did you put that? – I didn´t think of it,

And didn´t care? – I did.

Have you anybody which controls you doctors at all? – No.

If you had, this Bench would be very much inclined to report this case. It is a most flagrant one and we feel bound to say so.

Mr. Baker (to the doctor): Are not the medical profession and the school officers at issue on this matter, the point being that children are sent to school who ought not to go?

Mr. Yarborough: That is not the point. We rely on these certificates or we used to do, we don´t now – to excuse parents for the non-attendance at school of their children.

Mr. Baker: I grant that the working of the certificate was unfortunate.

Mr Yarborough: Unfortunate!

Dealing with the parent, the chairman said that her story did not agree with the records, as the child made almost full attendances in June, when she had said she kept him at home for a week. Her story was untrue, too. She would be fined 5s.

Mr. Yarborough then made the following public statement:

The Bench must express what they think about these doctors certificates, for this is not by any means the first case of this nature. The whole object of these certificates is that parents may be excused for the non-attendance of their children if they can prove that the child was ill on the dates of absence. It is necessary that doctors and parents should be quite clear as to the purpose of the certificates. People are summoned in these cases, as a rule, in respect of a period of three months. But in almost nine cases out of ten in this court, the parent goes to the doctor for a certificate either on the day before, or on the day of, the hearing of the case and the certificate generally states that the child is unable to attend school then. This is absolutely useless because the court want to know whether the child was unable to attend on any of the days in respect of which the parent is summoned.

When we come to a case like this, the Bench feel like making some strong remark about it: This is a flagrant case of which we think some official notice should be taken. Here we have a responsible medical officer issuing a certificate, of which he admits he knows the purpose, without taking the slightest trouble to inform himself whether his statements are true. This certificate is one which would lead an ordinary person, on reading it, to say “this child has been ill and unable to attend school during the whole of the six months is a question”. And we find that the child attended some part of every single week! Up to recent months the Bench have accepted these certificates and relied upon them in order to save parents the trouble and expense of summoning their doctors to attend court. But when we get certificates such as this it is impossible to rely upon them.

“We hope that doctors in this neighbourhood who have occasion to sign these certificates will, in future, take the rouble to see that their certificate applies to the period of the confinement, and be sure that they are true”

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