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Cancer Treatment

Mr. Hammond: To ask the Secretary of State for Health, pursuant to his answer of 27 June 2000, Official

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Report, column 437W, on cancer treatment, if he will estimate the percentage of cancer referrals in the NHS which are seen by (a) a cancer specialist and (b) a general surgeon in the most recent 12 months for which figures for referrals are available. [128593]

Yvette Cooper: Data specific to the monitoring of the two-week waiting time breast cancer standard record the waiting time between date of decision to refer and date seen. They do not record the specialist seen by the patient. Data collected on non-two-week specific outpatient referrals and the waiting time to see a consultant are collected only by the consultant's main speciality code. This would not necessarily be able to identify cancer patients.

Guidance issued to the National Health Service on improving outcomes in breast cancer recommends that patients with breast cancer should be managed by multi-disciplinary specialist breast care teams working to written guidelines. Diagnostic services must be able to provide rapid and accurate information to enable patients who do not have breast cancer to be reassured and treated if necessary, while ensuring that those who do proceed rapidly to treatment.

Sheep (Spinal Cord Removal)

Mr. Breed: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what reasons underlay the decision to require the removal of spinal cord from sheep at slaughter. [131813]

Ms Stuart [holding answer 21 July 2000]: I am advised by the Food Standards Agency that specified risk material (SRM) controls on sheep were introduced, on the basis of advice from the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC), after it had been demonstrated that sheep could be infected experimentally with BSE, and because it was considered possible that sheep had been exposed to BSE infectivity through feed. SEAC advised that the spinal cord of older sheep could pose a potential risk to human health if eaten, and recommended an extension of the SRM controls to include this tissue once it had been established that there were practical methods for removing it from the carcase. The controls are precautionary, as at present there is no evidence that BSE is present in commercial sheep.

Communication (Deaf People)

Mr. Sheerman: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what facilities his Department offers to deaf people in communicating with health trusts, health authorities and primary care groups. [132102]

Mr. Hutton: The Department has issued a range of guidance for the National Health Service on communicating with deaf and hearing impaired people. This includes "Doubly disabled: Equality for disabled people in the new NHS: access to services" together with a training video "When is it my turn?" for training and raising staff awareness of the communication needs of deaf and hearing impaired people. These were issued in April 1999.

To support implementation of Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act across the NHS, the NHS Executive issued guidance in July 1999. This guidance was informed by research conducted by "Disability Matters" on barriers faced by disabled people in the accessing the NHS. Their

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report, which concluded that the most significant barrier faced by disabled people in accessing the NHS was staff awareness and attitudes, was issued to health authorities, NHS trusts and primary care groups. It also led to the development of a distance learning package, "Welcoming Patients to the NHS" which was launched in November 1999. All these publications included material on communicating with deaf and hearing impaired people.

Accident Prevention Task Force

Mr. Austin: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will list the members and terms of reference of the accident prevention task force; when it is expected to meet; what its priorities are; and if he will make a statement. [132109]

Yvette Cooper [holding answer 24 July 2000]: The Task Force to advise on the prevention of accidental injuries, promised in the White Paper, "Saving Lives: Our Healthier Nation" will hold its initial meeting on a date to be arranged this autumn. The Task Force will be chaired by the Department of Health and involve other Government Departments as observers. Details of members are given. Its terms of reference are:

Taking account of "Saving Lives" and other initiatives in hand to reduce the burden of accidental injury, advise the Chief Medical Officer on:

A report with recommendations should be submitted to CMO within one year of its first meeting.

Care Homes

Mr. Colman: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans he has to strengthen the regulation of private care homes for the elderly. [132705]

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Mr. Hutton: In November 1998 we published our White Paper, "Modernising Social Services" which included our plans for reforming the regulation of care homes. The Care Standards Act brings about these reforms.

We will establish an independent National Care Standards Commission to regulate statutory and independent sector care services in accordance with national minimum standards to ensure consistency and improve the quality of life and level of protection for the most vulnerable people in society. The Commission will be accountable to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It will be responsible for the registration and inspection of all residential care and nursing homes, including those for older people. The Commission is expected to be fully operational by April 2002.

Press Releases

Mr. Lansley: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many press releases were issued in (a) 1997, (b) 1998, (c) 1999 and (d) this year to date; and what the total cost of the production and issuing of these press releases was in each year. [132748]

Ms Stuart: The Department adheres to the Access to Information Code of Practice and continually reviews the most cost effective methods for issuing press releases. The total cost of producing and issuing press releases cannot be separately identified as many of the costs are absorbed within the expenditure for running the Department's Communications Directorate.

The table shows the cost of distributing press releases provided by external suppliers in each financial year requested:

Financial Year£ 000
2000-01 to date44

The table shows the number of press releases issued each calendar year requested:

2000 to date372

Press Officers

Mr. Lansley: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many press officers were employed in his Department in (a) May 1997, (b) January 1998, (c) January 1999 and (d) January 2000; and what the total expenditure on press officers by his Department was in each of the years concerned. [132759]

Ms Stuart: Detailed information on the number of press officers employed by the Department during the financial year 1997-98 and 1998-99 was provided in Appendix II of the report, "The Government Information

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and Communications Service" (HC 770), published by the Select Committee on Public Administration (29 July 1998). Copies are available in the Library.

As at January 2000, the Department employed 16 press officers. Cost of press officers employed by the Department in the financial year 1999-2000 was £590,000.

Prescription Charges

Mr. Edward Davey: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what estimate he has made of the extra costs (a) per patient and (b) in aggregate, in prescription charges per year to patients using commonly prescribed generic drugs as a result of the price increases resulting from the introduction of patient packs; what action he has (i) taken and (ii) plans to minimise the costs to patients; and if he will make a statement. [132885]

Ms Stuart: The prescription charge is a flat-rate charge. Changes in the cost of medicines to the National Health Service do not therefore affect the charges paid by patients. We have given a commitment not to increase prescription charges by more than inflation (as measured by the retail prices index) for the rest of this Parliament.

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