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Ms Stuart: I am advised by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) that the revised meat inspection charging system that came into force on 2 April 2001 implements all the recommendations of the meat inspection charges task force (Maclean report) with one exception.
The exception was the recommendation that the FSA should carry out a full risk assessment of green offal inspection and veterinary involvement in ante-mortem inspection of young stock. The underlying intention was the removal of unnecessary burdens and costs (subject to amendment of the European Union Fresh Meat Directive) if the proposed assessment indicated that the procedures did not offer increased public health protection.
In its consultation package on the measures required to implement the recommendations of the Maclean task force, the FSA explained that the EU scientific steering committee is undertaking a risk assessment relating to all aspects of meat inspection in all member states. Any action that the European Commission proposes to take will depend on the committee's findings, and European legislation will be amended if required. In these circumstances the FSA considered that it would be unwise to act ahead of Europe on these issues. In addition, the FSA considered that the types of meat plants that would benefit from the removal of unnecessary inspections would, in any case, include those likely to benefit from the introduction of a revised inspection charging system based on headage payments.
Ms Stuart [holding answer 23 March 2001]: I am advised by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) that a copy of their proposals for changes to the meat inspection charging system from 2 April 2001 in order to implement the recommendations of the meat inspection charges task
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force was sent to all licensed meat plant operators in Great Britain in January 2001 as part of the FSA's public consultation exercise.
Subsequently, the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS) wrote to all plant operators on 29 March 2001 to inform them of the outcome of the consultation exercise and to provide details of the revised charging system to apply from 2 April. The letter also provided the contact details for MHS regional customer liaison officers should plant operators require further information.
The FSA also wrote to meat industry representative organisations on 2 April 2001 with a summary of the comments received during the consultation exercise, together with the FSA's response, and with details of the new charging system.
Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment he has made of recent reports on the numbers of mastectomy operations in (a) London and (b) the north-east and north-west regions of England. 
Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment he has made of the reason for the variation in the number of mastectomies carried out in different parts of the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement. 
Yvette Cooper: We are aware that there are variations in access to treatment across England. These may affect the number of mastectomies undertaken. The NHS Plan and the NHS Cancer Plan makes clear our targets to improve services to reduce variations. We have made available an additional £255 million in this financial year to support the appointment of new consultants and help implement the National Institute of Clinical Excellence guidance to end the postcode lottery of care. In addition new equipment for diagnosis and radiotherapy is being targeted to reduce geographic variations in levels of service provision. Information relating to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are matters for the devolved assemblies.
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Yvette Cooper: Key areas for the health related Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy (TSE) research programme are epidemiology, diagnostics, therapeutics, the investigation of different strains of TSEs, potential risks from blood and blood products and the decontamination of surgical instruments. Our total funding on TSE research for 2000-01 was in excess of £30 million, of which £4.0 million was for the Department's projects. For 2001-02, £5.3 million has been allocated for the Department's funded research.
The research strategy is kept under review and is updated and amended in the light of emerging scientific findings. A detailed list of Government-funded projects into TSEs is available on the Medical Research Council website at http://www.mrc.ac.uk/tse--tb2c.htm.
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many people presenting with symptoms of (a) breast cancer and (b) colo/rectal cancer were seen by a specialist within (i) two weeks and (ii) four weeks during (A) 2000-01 and (B) 1996-97 in Sefton health authority. 
Yvette Cooper: In April 1999, we introduced the standard that patients with suspected breast cancer referred urgently by their general practitioners should be offered an appointment with a specialist within two weeks of requesting an appointment. Central monitoring of this information began in April 1999. The table gives the number of urgent breast cancer referrals seen in Sefton health authority between 1 April 2000 and 31 December 2000. Data for 1 January 2001 to 31 March 2001 will be available in June 2001.
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|Quarter 1||Quarter 2||Quarter 3||Quarter 4|
|Number seen during quarter by a specialist within 14 days of the decision to refer by their GP||296||300||318||(5)--|
|Number seen during quarter by a specialist within 28 days of the decision to refer by their GP||310||300||321||(5)--|
|Total number seen during quarter||310||300||321||(5)--|
|Percentage seen during quarter by a specialist within 14 days of the decision to refer by their GP||95.5||100.0||99.1||(5)--|
|Percentage seen during quarter by a specialist within 28 days of the decision to refer by their GP||100.0||100.0||100.0||(5)--|
(5) Available June 2001
QMCW quarterly returns
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Yvette Cooper: The meningitis C immunisation programme, launched in November 1999, has offered vaccine routinely to babies and, in a catch-up programme, to everyone aged under 18. The total cost in England from the start of the programme to the end of the latest financial year (2000-01) is estimated at £290 million (total includes vaccine cost, moneys for general practitioners and nurses to administer the vaccines, publicity and information and changes to computer systems).
Yvette Cooper: Figures for the number of laboratory confirmed cases of meningococcal group C disease provided by the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) meningococcal reference unit (MRU) (for England, Wales and Northern Ireland), Cardiff Public Health Laboratory (Wales) or the Scottish Pneumococcal and Meningococcal Reference Laboratory (Scotland) are shown in the table.
|Year||England||Wales||Scotland(6)||Northern Ireland||United Kingdom|
(6) Scottish data include a small number of cases confirmed by serology only
(7) 2000 data provisional
About 50 per cent. of all cases of meningococcal disease are laboratory confirmed, the rest are clinically diagnosed on the basis of symptoms only by the doctors treating the patient. Clinically diagnosed cases must also be reported to the PHLS and other laboratories and this enhanced surveillance allows estimates to be made of the total burden of meningococcal disease caused by each group.
The best estimate of the burden of group C meningococcal disease just before the introduction of the meningitis C conjugate vaccine, adjusted for under- reporting and non-typing, was 1,530 cases and 150 deaths in England and Wales in 1998-99. The vaccine has had a huge impact on the disease. During the last six months of 2000 cases in all under 18 years of age were reduced by 71 per cent. with reductions of up to 90 per cent. in those age groups immunised first.
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