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GM Crops

Joan Ruddock: To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, (1) pursuant to the answer of 8 December 1999, Official Report, column 541W, on GM crops, if he will identify the evidence with which he has been provided concerning the quantities of GM pollen found in honey, indicating that on which he bases his assessment that such quantities are very small; [102841]

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Ms Quin: All GM crops intended for deliberate release in this country, and indeed in the rest of the European Community, are thoroughly assessed for human and environmental safety in accordance with the requirements of EC Directive 90/220 before they are allowed to be planted. This assessment, which is carried out in the UK by ACRE, includes the safety implications of any exposure to pollen through ingestion or inhalation.

The ACNFP considered the issue of GM pollen in honey at a workshop held in 1991 and concluded that the safeguards provided by ACRE and other Government advisory committees were adequate. The Committee also concluded that the ingestion of protein from pollen in honey was likely to be very small, typically around 0.00007 g to 0.003 g per day, and did not give rise to any health concerns. A copy of the 1991 and 1992 ACNFP Annual Reports which contain the conclusions of this workshop are available in the Library of the House.

Since then, the Laboratory of the Government Chemist has undertaken research on the pollen content of honey, at MAFF's request, and has confirmed that levels of GM protein are likely to be several orders of magnitude lower than previously thought. It estimated that consumers would ingest at most no more than 30 picogrammes (0.00000000003 g) to 5 nanogrammes (0.000000005 g) of transgenic protein in every 500 g of honey. The report of this research has been available in the MAFF Library since its completion but I am now arranging for it to be deposited in the Library of the House. In addition to this work, the British Honey Importers and Packers Association report on their website that they have found no traces of GM material in any of the honey they have tested to date. As a result of all these findings we see no reason to undertake an economic analysis of the impact of United Kingdom honey containing GM pollen on the British beekeeping and honey industry.

My noble Friend the Minister of State (Baroness Hayman) has not held consultations with consumers or beekeepers on the acceptability of traces of GM pollen in honey, however, officials hold regular meetings with representatives from the beekeeping industry and honey producers and importers to discuss issues of mutual concern including the development of GM crops. The last such meeting took place on 10 November.

The ACNFP has an independent member, representing consumer interests, who would be consulted on any changes to the Committee's view on the acceptability of traces of GM pollen in honey. Consumers' organisations, along with other interested parties, were consulted on the recent EC proposals to introduce a threshold of 1 per cent. for the adventitious contamination of non GM soya and maize, in respect of the labelling of food and food ingredients.

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Waiting Lists

Mr. Peter Bottomley: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what information is routinely available to him on NHS waiting lists for (a) all services that are not normally consultant-led and (b) audiology. [104310]

Mr. Denham: Information is available on National Health Service waiting lists only for services which are consultant led. In audiological medicine, 61 per cent. of patients were seen within 13 weeks and 80 per cent. within 26 weeks of being referred by their general practitioner.

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Mr. O'Hara: To ask the Secretary of State for Health in the last year for which figures are available, how many people in each NHS region on NHS waiting lists are aged (a) under 29, (b) 30 to 49, (c) 50 to 64, (d) 65 to 74, (e) 75 to 84 and (f) 85 years and over. [103955]

Mr. Denham: Data are not collected by age group on the number of patients in each National Health Service region currently on National Health Service waiting lists. The total number of patients on NHS waiting lists is, however, collected by each region and is shown in the table.

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Monthly inpatient waiting list data by Regional Office area (NHS Trust based)

MonthNorthern and YorkshireTrentWest MidlandsNorth WestEasternLondonSouth EastSouth WestEngland
October 1998142,168115,061106,860185,121134,756195,053203,211111,2531,193,483
November 1998138,213112,850103,339180,827131,285187,694198,384109,4701,162,062
December 1998141,051114,165104,034183,880132,574187,032199,645111,2171,173,598
January 1999139,347113,825104,406183,452130,769183,990194,341109,2381,159,368
February 1999134,787110,52299,226177,445126,057176,238188,695106,7001,119,670
March 1999128,527106,55293,581171,694119,889167,783181,122103,7121,072,860
April 1999133,013106,54695,448173,838121,915169,967185,479106,3881,092,594
May 1999133,017107,34295,830174,515122,842170,096186,181106,2741,096,097
June 1999134,650106,85196,056174,323121,546169,894184,120106,8111,094,251
July 1999133,766105,44696,109173,900120,784168,529185,715107,2861,091,535
August 1999134,255104,08296,053174,517118,860167,887185,271107,9441,088,869
September 1999133,343103,76397,204173,255118,517167,338184,587106,5221,084,529
October 1999133,301102,72096,141171,980118,269167,078184,378105,5811,079,448

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Respiratory Illnesses

Mr. Dobbin: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans are in place to cope with a possible increase in respiratory-associated illnesses in elderly people this winter. [104165]

Mr. Hutton: Local Winter Planning Groups (LWPG) were established in April 1999 to co-ordinate the planning and provision of health and social care services over the winter and the millennium. Each LWPG includes health authorities, social services, National Health Service trusts, primary care groups, out-of-hours and deputising services, NHS Direct, police and fire services, the voluntary and private sector, community health councils and other local authority departments.

As part of the planning process LWPG's were required to submit robust plans at the end of September 1999 setting out how services would respond to increased winter demand including that linked to respiratory- associated illnesses. The plans, which were assessed by the NHS regional offices, together with visits to a number of health authorities, showed a high state of readiness for the winter.

Many viruses contribute to respiratory-associated illness in older people in the winter and influenza is the only one we have an effective vaccine against. In 1998, we extended the annual immunisation programme for influenza to offer free flu vaccine to everyone aged 75 and over. Flu immunisation was well publicised. The Chief Medical Officer launched "Flu Awareness Week" at a press conference in October which resulted in widespread media coverage and provided a useful opportunity to get

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key messages across. Many health authorities also took an active role in promoting flu immunisation locally last year.

Also, as part of planning for this winter, NHS Trust have arrangements in place to provide more intensive care and high dependency beds than ever before.

Informing the public of the range of healthcare options available and encouraging them to use the appropriate service has also been a key component of planning for the winter. General campaigns of particular relevance to older people have been: "Keep Warm, Keep Well" which provides advice to older and other vulnerable people on how to keep themselves and their homes warm in winter and "Choose the Right Remedy this Winter" which encourages the public to consider all the options open to them when they are unwell such as self care, pharmacy, and NHS Direct.

The NHS and local authorities have planned well for this winter and the current peaks in demand are being managed.

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