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Overhead Powerlines

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps he has taken to test the validity of the scientific research underlying recent studies into the link between overhead powerlines and skin cancer. [103600]

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Yvette Cooper: In research published recently in the International Journal of Radiation Biology, scientists from Bristol University reported observations of increased deposition of natural radionuclides near power lines. The authors suggest that this might lead to an increased risk of skin cancer for people living under high voltage powerlines. This research was financed in part by the Department.

The Department will consider the results of this study in the context of other work in this area and has asked for views from the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB). The NRPB's Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation is reviewing the research in this area and will report in the New Year.

Care Homes

Miss McIntosh: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many private nursing homes and residential homes there were in the United Kingdom in (a) 1997, (b) 1998 and (c) 1999. [103836]

Mr. Hutton: The numbers of independent residential and nursing care homes in England at 31 March 1997 and 1998 are 26,600 and 26,700 respectively. Data for 1999 are not yet available. Information for the remainder of the United Kingdom is a matter for the relevant devolved authorities.

Negative Pressure Therapy

Mr. Oaten: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what recent guidelines he has issued to health authorities on the use of negative pressure therapy. [103096R]

Yvette Cooper: The Department has not issued any specific guidance on the use of negative pressure therapy.

The most appropriate method of wound care should be determined by a clinician.

BCG Vaccine

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if resources allocated to the BCG vaccination programme have been transferred (a) in the short term and (b) permanently to the vaccination programme for meningitis. [103396]

Yvette Cooper: Funding for the meningococcal Group C immunisation programme has come from a separate source to that used to fund the BCG immunisation programme. We are aware that some health workers, especially school nurses, involved in delivering BCG vaccine, are currently involved in the meningococcal Group C immunisation programme in schools. Up to £9 million of new money is being made available to health authorities to support the meningococcal Group C immunisation programme, in addition to the central purchase and supply of vaccine at no cost to health authorities.

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on the level of stocks of BCG vaccine in the NHS. [103392]

Yvette Cooper: BCG vaccine has been in limited supply for a number of months due to severe manufacturing problems encountered by the sole United Kingdom licensed source, Medeva Pharma Ltd. Stocks are

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now being delivered. Until manufacture resumes to viable quantities, stocks are being used specifically for those at highest risk.

Mr. Pickles: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make it his policy to give priority to Brentwood when stocks of BCG vaccine become available. [103399]

Yvette Cooper: While BCG vaccine is in limited supply from the manufacturer, Medeva Pharma Ltd., stocks are being used for those at highest risk. Priority of supply is made on the basis of clinical need, not geographical location. Brentwood will be treated equally with other areas according to the risk.

Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Health which health authorities do not provide BCG vaccinations as a routine procedure. [103646]

Yvette Cooper [holding answer 21 December 1999]: BCG immunisation against tuberculosis at age 10-14 is nationally recommended as routine. We are aware that a small number of health authorities have not been providing routine BCG immunisation for all 10 to 14-year-olds. We do not keep records of which health authorities do not routinely immunise 10 to 14-year-olds.

Health Services (Age Discrimination)

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what measures he has in place to combat age discrimination in the provision of health services. [103244]

Mr. Hutton [holding answer 21 December 1999]: Discrimination of any kind--whether it is on the basis of age, race or gender--is completely unacceptable in the National Health Service. Treatment should rest entirely on clinical need. We are determined to provide older people with care that meets their needs--fast, efficient and sensitive. Already we have extended the annual immunisation programme for influenza to ensure that everyone aged 75 and over can have the flu vaccine free of charge. Over the next three years we will be expanding cataract services to increase the number of cataract operations from 170,000 a year currently to 250,000 a year--this will benefit thousands of older people. From 1 April this year all people aged 60 and over are entitled to free eye tests, regardless of income or health status. We are also developing a National Service Framework (NSF) for Older People. This, for the first time, will set national standards for the care of older people, driving up the quality and reducing variations in that care. The NSF will be published next year.

Cancer Patients (Fertility Treatment)

Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will review the decision to deny women cancer patients access to their stored eggs. [103653]

Yvette Cooper [holding answer 21 December 1999]: The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is responsible under the terms of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 among other things for licensing decisions for the storage of human eggs. The Act provides for appeals to be made to the Authority in certain circumstances where an applicant is not satisfied with a licensing decision. I understand that an appeal will be heard by the Authority later this month.

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Musculoskeletal Conditions

Mr. Salter: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans he has to improve services to people suffering from arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions. [102840]

Mr. Hutton [holding answer 21 December 1999]: I refer my hon. Friend to the comments I made during the adjournment debate on arthritis on 13 December 1999, Official Report, columns 126-30.

High-security Hospitals (Staffing)

Dr. Iddon: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what changes there have been in the figures for vacancies in high-security hospitals for (a) nurses, (b) nursing assistants, (c) occupational therapists, (d) forensic psychologists and (e) psychiatrists since his answer of 26 May 1999, Official Report, columns 159-60W. [104345]

Mr. Hutton: The information requested is not available centrally. The high-security hospitals are well advanced on a programme of full integration with the rest of the National Health Service. The integration process is now being taken forward at a local level and workforces issues are a matter for local consideration.

Generic Drugs

Mr. Sanders: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on the change in the cost of generic drugs in the last year and its effect on the NHS. [104010]

Ms Stuart: During 1999 the Drug Tariff price of the top two hundred generic drugs dispensed in the community rose by over a third on average. On 21 December we announced additional in-year funding of £90 million to help the National Health Service manage the pressures from generic prices on health authority budgets.

The Government have put in place a fundamental review of the way generics are supplied to the NHS to see whether existing arrangements best serve the service and to identify possible alternatives. The conclusions of the programme of work are expected by the summer.


Higher Education Funding Council

Mr. Pickthall: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what plans he has for the future chairmanship of the Higher Education Funding Council for England. [104621]

Mr. Wicks: My right hon. Friend has appointed the current chairman, Sir Michael Checkland, to serve for a further year until 30 September 2001. We are very grateful to Sir Michael for his contribution to the work of the council over the last three years and for his willingness to continue to serve as chairman.

Education Action Zones

Angela Smith: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if he will report on the progress of the first round of education action zones. [104451]

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Ms Estelle Morris: These zones have now been running for 12 to 16 months and the early signs are that they are doing well. The summer 1999 exam results show that the zones are raising standards in these disadvantaged areas. At Key Stage 2, there was a 6 per cent. average improvement in English and 12 per cent. improvement in maths in EAZ schools compared to national increases of 5 per cent. and 10 per cent. There was a 2 per cent. average improvement in the numbers of pupils gaining 1 GCSE A*-G grade in EAZ schools compared to a national increase of 1 per cent.

The Comptroller and Auditor General yesterday placed in both Libraries of Parliament audited financial accounts for the 1998-99 financial year for four of the first round zones. These show that, even in their first seven months of operation, the zones attracted significant additional funding to education from the private and public sectors.

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