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Aircraft Fumes

9. Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North): If he will list the types of aircraft which exude smoke odours and fumes into their cabins. [143972]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Chris Mullin): The safety regulation group of the Civil Aviation Authority receives reports of smoke, odours and fumes entering the cabins of all UK-registered passenger aircraft types. Analysis of the 171 incidents reported in the year ending 30 June 2000, resulting from a variety of causes, indicated no significant pattern regarding aircraft type. Only 14 related to oil contamination and none suggests any risk to health and safety.

Dr. Gibson: Does my hon. Friend have any knowledge or figures on incidences where the cabin crew or the pilot became ill from causes unknown? Does he have a view on today's tabloid headline in the Daily Express about deep-vein thrombosis and whether the figures purported in that article are truisms or, as I think, guesstimates?

Mr. Mullin: As I said, none of the 171 incidents reported in the year up to 30 June 2000 was deemed to pose a serious risk to the health or safety of pilots. Should an incident pose a serious risk to health or safety, the Civil Aviation Authority would oversee a more detailed investigation. Let me take the opportunity to comment on the irresponsible story in the Daily Express this morning. It was based almost entirely on the word of one Mr. Farrol Khan, who runs something called the aviation health institute, of which, so far as we can tell, he is the only member. Mr. Khan gave evidence to the excellent inquiry into aviation health conducted by the Lords Select Committee, which described his evidence as

and only director, as far as we can tell. It continued:

This is a serious issue. It is right that it should be taken seriously. The Government are taking it seriously, but foolish reports of this nature are not helpful and any evidence from Mr. Khan should come with a Government health warning attached.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): How many complaints from members of the public have been received about smoke odours and fumes in aircraft cabins? How do those figures compare with the number of complaints received over, say, the past three years from members of the public, passengers on aircraft who have

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suffered colds, coughs, sore throats and other ailments as a result of the increasingly unsatisfactory circulation of air on aircraft?

Mr. Mullin: As I said, 171 incidents have been reported from all sources, including members of the public. I do not have a breakdown as regards air quality. The Lords Select Committee produced an excellent report, which I commend to the hon. Gentleman. The Government are taking it seriously. We have commissioned research to see what gaps there are in our knowledge, and we shall take any measures that are necessary. However, it is possible to exaggerate in this area and I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will keep a sense of perspective.

Regional Air Links

10. Mr. David Stewart (Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber): If he will make a statement on regional air links with Heathrow Airport. [143973]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Mr. Chris Mullin): The Government acknowledge the social and economic benefits of air links between London and the regions of the United Kingdom. However, demand for take-off and landing slots at Heathrow greatly exceeds capacity. Slots are allocated by an independent co-ordinator. The Government have very limited powers of intervention; to date, they have concluded that no regional air services into Heathrow qualify for a public services obligation, which would enable slots to be protected.

Mr. Stewart: I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for that answer. Does he share my view that regional air links are crucial for business, for tourism and, indeed, for inward investment, but that there is a worrying trend for carriers to cut regional air services in favour of more lucrative international destinations? May I press my hon. Friend on public service obligations? Does he agree that they are the only real way to guarantee a future for rural, regional air services?

Mr. Mullin: We certainly accept that there is a case for good regional air services into London. What we do not accept--as my hon. Friend will recall from the discussions we held when he came to see me--is that all those services can go into Heathrow, which is heavily over-subscribed.

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Regions must wean themselves off Heathrow and consider not only the other big London airports, but other solutions--such as developing international services out of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester or Newcastle. That is where the future lies, given the heavy congestion in our airspace. I understand that the

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highlands and islands airports are exploring the potential for direct flights between Inverness and Amsterdam. That is a sensible solution to the difficulty outlined by my hon. Friend. However, as far as I am aware, there is no threat to the four flights a week from Inverness to Gatwick.

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Bedford Hospital

3.31 pm

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) (by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on the proposed inquiry into the storage of corpses at Bedford hospital.

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Alan Milburn): As Members are aware, last week the bodies of certain deceased patients were inappropriately kept in a chapel of rest at Bedford hospital.

Let me say at the outset that what happened at Bedford hospital was totally and utterly unacceptable. Patients and their families have a right to be treated with dignity and respect at all times, in all parts of the national health service. In this case, they were not. We have a responsibility to get to the bottom of what went wrong in Bedford.

Over the weekend, an investigation was begun by the eastern regional office of the NHS executive. An initial report was made verbally to the NHS chief executive, Mr. Nigel Crisp. The final report of the full investigation will be published. I will ensure that it is placed in the Library.

I am advised by Mr. Crisp that the initial findings on this incident identified a failure of management within the trust. The trust chief executive, Mr. Ken Williams, has stepped down. In the circumstances, that was the right thing to do.

In the past, there were no clear guidelines about how dignity and respect for deceased patients should be ensured. The NHS now has guidelines that emphasise the need for standards to respect patients' dignity. The guidelines were issued by my Department to every hospital in May last year. The guidance was repeated in November last year. In Bedford, that guidance was not adequately implemented.

The preliminary inquiries appear to show that in the past, when the mortuary facility was full, the deceased were kept in the chapel of rest. Following the issue of guidance in May, however, an extra purpose-built mortuary facility was purchased at a cost of about £20,000. I am advised that the additional facility was at no stage full. It was functioning normally, apart from a minor problem with the doors that was reported on Monday of last week, but final action about that was not taken until last Thursday. During that period last week, bodies were placed inappropriately in the chapel of rest. No policies and procedures were in place in the hospital to ensure that the bodies of deceased patients were treated with dignity and respect at all times. This was not a cash problem in the hospital; it was not a capacity problem in the hospital: it was a management problem in the hospital--a failure to implement clear national guidelines and resolve a clear local problem immediately. The issue should and could have been sorted out on the spot.

Instead, deceased patients were denied their dignity. That should never happen in any part of the NHS, and those who say that what happened in one part of Bedford hospital is a reflection of what happens throughout NHS hospitals are simply wrong. They do not do justice to the efforts of the 1 million people who work in the health service, who strive day in, day out to maintain and to raise standards for patients.

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It is deeply regrettable that decisions taken inside Bedford hospital prevented deceased patients from receiving the respect that their relatives had every right to expect from an NHS hospital. Yesterday, the NHS chief executive wrote to all trusts reminding them of their duty to treat the deceased with dignity and sensitivity, in line with the guidance that we issued last year.

The Health and Safety Executive will visit Bedford hospital on 18 January. The independent inspectorate for the NHS, the Commission for Health Improvement, will begin its inspection on 29 January. This matter will now be covered as part of its wider inspection of the hospital.

The events that took place in Bedford last week should never have happened, and need never have happened. I am deeply sorry that they did.

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