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The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Alan Milburn): We have made investment in treating coronary heart disease and its prevention a priority. There are more heart specialists and more heart operations, and there is more help for people to give up smoking--the biggest avoidable cause of death from heart disease.
Ms Kelly: Is my right hon. Friend aware that people who have a family member with heart disease are four times more likely to suffer the same disease themselves? In the light of that fact, will he congratulate the British Heart Foundation, which has visited more than 40 towns and cities to publicise that issue? Does he agree that raising awareness of heart disease is incredibly important in combating it?
Mr. Milburn: I very much agree with my hon. Friend. The British Heart Foundation plays a very important role, not just in public education but in the support that it offers families who are hit by this dreadful disease. Heart disease is the biggest killer in the country; it kills around 150,000 people a year. I know that the BHF is looking to launch a major research programme into the genetics behind heart disease, and that is welcome. I hope that my hon. Friend will join me in welcoming the recent announcements of my colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry. An extra £71 million is to be invested, jointly with the Higher Education Funding Council and the Wellcome Trust, in some of these areas.
I notice that the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) was quoted in the papers this morning as saying that the £71 million is being spent on the treatment of phobias. Nothing could be further from the truth. The money is, for example, for research at the university of Oxford into computer simulation to aid better treatment and drugs for heart disease and diabetes; for research at the university of Glasgow into genes that trigger conditions such as depression, asthma and cancer; and certainly for research, in places such as Nottingham and University college, London, into human brain disorders including schizophrenia, autism and memory decline among the elderly. I hope that my hon. Friend will welcome that, unlike the hon. Gentleman.
Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): Is the Secretary of State aware of the unequivocal support of my constituents who have suffered from the most serious form of coronary heart disease for the Wythenshawe heart transplant centre, which is under threat of closure? Is he aware that that is a centre of excellence, the work of which is most highly valued throughout the north-west? Its location is easily accessible for patients from south of Manchester, including those in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton).
On the serious issue that the hon. Lady raises, as she knows, the Department and Ministers have received representations not only from people in the north-west, which we take very seriously, but from colleagues in Sheffield and Birmingham too. Some difficult decisions will have to be taken, and they must be informed by the best clinical advice that we can get. She is aware of some of the clinical issues around these matters. As yet, Ministers have not received formal advice. I hope that we can make the right decision as soon as we are able, but, in the meantime, we hear the representations.
Angela Smith (Basildon): I know that the Secretary of State is aware that prevention and early intervention are key to tackling heart disease and greatly reduce the risk. Does he therefore accept that creating health awareness at a young age is the key? Will he strengthen links between the Department for Education and Employment and the Department of Health to ensure that sports education in schools is given very high priority?
Mr. Milburn: That is very important. There are certain things that we need to do in the short term, and things that we must do in the longer term. There is more that we can do in the short term to increase the number of cardiologists, cardio-thoracic surgeons and heart operations, and that is happening, but the greatest gain in tackling coronary heart disease will come from improved prevention, rather than improved treatment. As my hon. Friend says, sport in schools is incredibly important, as is diet among school children. She is aware that we have introduced an initiative to provide free fruit to children in school for the first time. It is hugely welcome in the schools where it has been tried out, and I have no doubt that in the longer term it will bring great benefit in terms of health gain, not just among the children who receive a free piece of school fruit, but among their families.
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring): The Secretary of State will be aware that figures show that failure to screen adequately means that up to 30 per cent. of coronary care beds in the United Kingdom are occupied by patients who do not have a cardiac problem. In the Government's overall strategy, what is the place of Troponin testing, and what are the Government's plans?
Mr. Milburn: We need to do more not just in respect of screening, but, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, to ensure that when patients are referred by their general practitioner to hospital, they are treated as quickly as possible. That is
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Denham): The national service frameworks for mental health, older people and coronary heart disease will help to ensure greater attention to carers' needs across the NHS and social services. The additional flexibility introduced by the Health Act 1999, together with the new powers to establish care trusts, will also lead to closer integration of health and social care. By 2003-04, an additional 75,000 carers will benefit from extra services.
Mr. Edwards: Does my right hon. Friend agree that more has been done to support carers in the first four years of this Government than at any other time in the past, and that with the national carers strategy, the Carers and Disabled Children Act 2000 and the increase in social security benefits for carers introduced this week, there is a significant improvement in provision for the 9,000 carers in Monmouthshire? Given that the Conservative party has made no commitment to match the Government's commitment to social services spending, does my right hon. Friend accept that the Carers and Disabled Children Act 2000, which is to be introduced by local authorities later this year, would be jeopardised?
Mr. Denham: My hon. Friend makes some important points. It is worth quoting Diana Whitworth, the chief executive of the Carers National Association, on the publication of the recent national service framework for the elderly. She said of the policies in that document:
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Will the Minister join me in praising the service provided by the minor injuries unit and respite care beds at the Victoria hospital in Lichfield? Will he finally end the confusion that has
Mr. Denham: Few people have done more to create a cloud of uncertainty over the future of the Lichfield hospital than the hon. Gentleman. What I can say to him and to other hon. Members is that the investment that the Government will make in support for carers, as well as that which we are making in intermediate care, provides the best guarantee of continuing good provision of community facilities for those who need care and respite care. He will understand that all that is threatened by some of the policies that he supports.