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Social Services Tribunals

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he has taken advice on the composition and independence of social services tribunals in the light of Beesson v. Dorset county council QB, 30 November; and what plans he has to issue a circular to local authorities on the matter. [22915]

Jacqui Smith: As part of the judgment in this case, the court decided that the system used by the council in determining the question of deprivation under regulation 25 of the National Assistance (Assessment of Resources) Regulations 1992 did not comply with article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The court held that the system failed because the panel established under the social services complaints procedure did not amount to an independent review of the facts, and because there was no such review, judicial review was not an adequate means of appeal. But the judge made it clear that the statutory scheme was not incompatible with human rights.

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The judge granted leave to appeal on the article 6(1) point. The Department is currently considering making an appeal. We will consider whether revised guidance to local authorities is required.

Pharmacies

Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) how many community pharmacists there were in (a) 1997, (b) 1998, (c) 1999, (d) 2000 and (e) at the latest date for which figures are available; [22099]

Ms Blears [holding answer 13 December 2001]: We do not collect information on the number of community pharmacists. However, the number of community pharmacies in England providing NHS pharmaceutical services during the years 1997 to 2001 is shown in the table.

We do not expect the number of community pharmacies to change significantly in the year ending 31 March 2002.

As at 31 MarchNumber of community pharmacies
19979,775
19989,781
19999,785
20009,775
20019,774

Mr. Chope: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many small pharmacies have (a) closed and (b) opened in each of the last four years in England. [23396]

Ms Blears: Figures for the number of pharmacies dispensing national health service prescriptions which have opened and closed in the last four years are in the table. We do not collect information on the size of these pharmacies.

YearNumber of pharmacies openingNumber of pharmacies closing
1997–984642
1998–994651
1999–20002333
2000–013637

Mr. Chope: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many pharmacies dispensing NHS prescriptions there were in Dorset in 1997; and how many there are now. [23395]

Ms Blears: At 31 March 1997 there were 139 pharmacies dispensing national health service prescriptions in Dorset. There are now 136.

Mr. Chope: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what was the price per script paid to NHS pharmacy contractors for the first 1,700 items dispensed each month in (a) 1992, (b) October 2001 and (c) now. [23397]

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Ms Blears [holding answer 17 December 2001]: Between January and October 1992, the remuneration paid to pharmacy contractors in England for dispensing the first 1,700 prescriptions each month consisted of a fee of 151.2 pence for each of the first 1,500 prescriptions and 71.5 pence for each of the remainder. In addition, pharmacies were paid an on-cost of 5 per cent. of the basic price of the items dispensed.

In November and December 1992, the equivalent fee for each of the first 1,700 prescriptions was 159 pence, and the on-cost was 2.5 per cent.

In October 2001, the fee for each prescription dispensed was 97.5 pence. There was no on-cost, but the large majority of pharmacies dispensing 1,600 or more prescriptions in any month were eligible for a professional allowance of £1,460 per month.

The equivalent fee is now 87.4 pence. The professional allowance has not changed.

In each case, these figures exclude fees and allowances paid only for certain types of prescription.

Mr. Chope: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make it his policy that the NHS should pay pharmacy contractors within 30 days of receipt of claims for the supply of drugs; and if he will make a statement. [23398]

Ms Blears [holding answer 17 December 2001]: We have no plans to alter the current timetable for paying pharmacy contractors in England for the national health service prescriptions they dispense.

Medicines Control Agency

Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what (a) strengthened warnings, (b) restrictions on the terms of marketing authorisations and (c) revocations of medicines have been issued by the Medicines Control Agency in the current financial year. [22086]

Ms Blears [holding answer 13 December 2001]: In the current financial year (1 April 2001 to 10 December 2001), there have been 1,083 changes to individual sections of the summary of product characteristics to strengthen safety warnings and to restrict the conditions of their use; these relate to 805 licensed medicinal products. Of these, 595 amendments were initiated by the Medicines Control Agency while 488 were initiated by the marketing authorisation holder. In addition, five licences for two nationally authorised products, amfepramone and phentermine, and two products authorised through the European centralised procedure, Trovan and Turvel, have been revoked. Specific details of this large number of regulatory actions can be provided only at disproportionate cost.

999 Emergency Calls

Mr. Lansley: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what has been the change in the number of 999 emergency calls received by each NHS ambulance trust in the latest 12 months for which figures are available. [22877]

Ms Blears: Information about the number of emergency calls for all NHS ambulance trusts are contained in the Department of Health Statistical Bulletin

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"Ambulance Services, England 2000–01". A copy is in the Library and the bulletin is available at www.doh.gov.uk/public/sb0115.htm.

Depleted Uranium

Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what research his Department has conducted in the last 10 years into illnesses caused by exposure to depleted uranium; what assessment has been made of the risks to health from exposure to depleted uranium used in munitions and military equipment; and if he will make a statement. [22314]

Ms Blears [holding answer 13 December 2001]: The Department is advised on matters of radiation risk by the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB). NRPB has not carried out any research specifically into illnesses caused by exposure to depleted uranium. However, NRPB has carried out research that is relevant to the assessment of the risks to health from such exposures. In particular NRPB has carried out extensive research into the distribution of uranium between body organs, its retention and excretion, following inhalation of a wide range of uranium compounds. It has also developed computer models that enable the concentration of uranium in the various organs and resulting radiation doses to be calculated. Depleted uranium is mildly radioactive, and NRPB's research programme on the effects of ionising radiation in general is therefore relevant to assessment of the radiological risks from exposure to depleted uranium.

NRPB staff have also contributed to studies of the risks to health from exposure to depleted uranium carried out by working groups set up by the European Commission, the Royal Society, and the World Health Organisation. Reports from each have been published during 2001.

The Department also knows of four academic groups which have been active in reviewing the risks from depleted uranium; they are the Royal Society Depleted Uranium Working Group, the British Geological Survey, the University of Bristol Department of Earth Sciences and the Southampton Oceanic Centre.

Social Care

Mr. Laws: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans he has to provide additional financial support for social care for vulnerable people in Somerset; and if he will make a statement. [22444]

Ms Blears [holding answer 13 December 2001]: The Department is planning to provide significant additional financial support for social care for the vulnerable people in Somerset. In 2002–03, Somerset County Council's social services standard spending assessment is set to increase to just over £77 million, this represents a 5.9 per cent. cash increase over 2001–02. In addition, they will receive increases in the overall level of the grants paid directly by this Department next year. This follows on from a 5.7 per cent. increase in their total social services resources in 2001–02.


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