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Correspondence

Sir Brian Mawhinney: To ask the Secretary of State for Health when the right hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire will receive a reply to his letter of 16 August on behalf of his constituent Mrs. Cochrane. [135786]

Ms Stuart: A reply to the right hon. Member's letter was sent on 1 November 2000.

Mr. Wareing: To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he intends to answer the questions tabled on 17 July by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby, on the subject of the Alder Hey inquiry, to which he gave holding answers; and when he will reply to the letters of 3 August and 20 September, on the same subject, from the hon. Member. [136183]

Mr. Denham: I shall let my hon. Friend have a reply to his questions and letters as soon as possible.

Prescription Charges

Dr. Naysmith: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) if he will set up a review of the system of prescription charges including assessment of the treatment under the scheme of (a) patients requiring life-long treatment for non-exempt medical conditions and (b) other patients who are exempted from charges; [135987]

Ms Stuart: The list of medical conditions conferring prescription charge exemption was agreed with the medical profession in 1968. The list and other aspects of prescription charges were reviewed in 1998 as part of the Government's Comprehensive Spending Review. No changes were made to the list of medical exemptions. We have no plans to undertake a further review. Our policy is to give priority to helping those who may have difficulty in paying charges, rather than extending the exemption arrangements.

Suicides

Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what recent studies he has carried out on the correlation between individual doctors and suicides. [136095]

Mr. Denham: The Department commissioned a research project on suicide in high-risk occupational groups, conducted by Professor Keith Hawton and colleagues at the Centre for Suicide Research, University

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of Oxford. The project was funded over the period 1 December 1993 to 30 June 2000. A major component of the study has been research on suicide in doctors. The research will help to inform policy development.

Long-term Care

Mr. Harvey: To ask the Secretary of State for Health which elements of the Government's proposals for elderly care, announced in the National Health Service National Plan, were included by the Royal Commission on Long Term Care in its estimate for free personal care. [136041]

Mr. Hutton: The Royal Commission on Long Term Care proposed that personal care should be free, with recipients of long-term care making a co-payment for living and housing costs. It did not sum a series of proposals to reach its estimate of the cost of free personal care. It used information on the costs of care and the numbers of privately funded residents. Our proposals for free nursing care fall within the Royal Commission's estimate of the cost of free personal care, as do the proposed changes to the residential charging rules--the three month property disregard, uprating the capital limits and resources to enable councils to place charges on homes.

Fruit Juice Labelling

Mr. Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will extend the period for the introduction of new packaging and labelling rules under the EU fruit juice Directive from 30 months to five years. [136662]

Ms Stuart: The European Union fruit juice Directive requires member states to prohibit the sale of products which fail to comply with its provisions 30 months after the directive enters into force. The UK has no discretion to extend the transition period set out in the directive. Industry is aware of the likely timescales for the required changes.

Occupational Therapists

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he will reply to the question tabled by the hon. Member for Twickenham on 16 May concerning occupational therapists (ref. 122908). [136315]

Mr. Denham: I replied to the hon. Member on 2 November 2000, Official Report, columns 605-06W

Eye Tests

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many eye tests were carried out on people aged over 65 years since April 1999 (a) in Coventry South and (b) nationally. [136692]

Mr. Hutton: We extended eligibility for National Health Service sight tests to everyone aged 60 and over from 1 April 1999. In England and Wales, 10,030,000 sight tests were paid for by health authorities in the year ending 31 March 2000. This was 34 per cent. more than the total for the year ending 31 March 1999 (7,469,000). Figures for the numbers of people aged 60 and over who have received free eye tests in particular areas are not collected centrally. However, the increase in the total number of sight tests paid for by Coventry health authority in the year ending 31 March 2000 was

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14,360. The increase in the total number of sight tests paid for by all health authorities in England in the year ending 31 March 2000 was 2,407,080. It is fair to assume that the majority of these increases was due to newly eligible people aged 60 or over obtaining NHS sight tests.

Children in Care

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans he has to raise the standards of care for looked after children. [136687]

Mr. Hutton: We have already taken steps to improve the standard of care received by looked after children, and we are committed to a clear programme of action to turn around the experience of this vulnerable group.

The Government Response to the Children's Safeguards Review, in November 1998, set out a detailed programme to ensure good quality care for looked after children. The Quality Protects programme was introduced in 1999-2000, to improve the services provided to and the outcomes of vulnerable children, particularly looked after children. Councils receive special grant funding to help them make the changes required, and councils have been set clear targets which they are expected to achieve. In particular, the funding has been directed at improving the quality and range of placements available and at raising levels of educational achievement for looked after children. We recently announced the extension of this programme from three to five years.

From 1 January 2001, small private children's homes will be brought into regulation. This will mean that, for the first time, these homes will have to meet the requirements of the Children's Homes Regulations 1991 and will have to be registered with council inspection units.

The Children (Leaving Care) Bill will ensure that young people do not leave care before they are ready to do so. From 2002 the National Care Standards Commission will inspect children's homes, local authority fostering services and independent fostering agencies. Inspection will be against national minimum standards for the particular organisations which will ensure that the quality of care received by looked after children will be acceptable throughout England.

NHS Walk-in Centres

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans he has to develop further the number and range of NHS walk-in centres. [136589]

Mr. Denham: No decisions have been made about the number or range of further walk-in centres which might be developed in the future.

We will consider this in the context of improving primary care services in general.

Clinical Error

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans he has to introduce an early warning system of clinical error. [136694]

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Ms Stuart: We agreed all recommendations set out by an expert group on learning from adverse events in the National Health Service in the report "An Organisation with a Memory". We are planning, by the end of 2001, to introduce a new mandatory reporting system to log failures, mistakes, errors and near-misses in health care and ensure that lessons learned in one part of the NHS are properly shared with the whole of the health service.

Primary Care Trusts

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what progress is being made on the development of primary care trusts. [136588]

Mr. Denham: Excellent progress continues to be made in developing primary care trusts (PCTs) with 44 primary care groups forming 40 PCTs in this first year. Over 130 further PCT proposals are now being assessed against national criteria. Final decisions on these proposals will be made shortly with a view to establishing the PCTs in January for an operational start date of 1 April 2001. At least a further 190 PCGs are also considering movement to trust status for 2002.


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