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Hugh Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on waiting times for ophthalmology referrals at the Kent and Canterbury hospital. [14332]

Ms Blears: We have been informed that over 200 patients are currently waiting more than 26 weeks for a first appointment for ophthalmology at the Kent and Canterbury hospital. However, since the start of the 2001–02 financial year, East Kent hospitals national health service trust has achieved a 4,990 reduction in the numbers of patients waiting over 26 weeks.

The trust has taken a number of actions to reduce waiting times for ophthalmology still further and ensure it achieves its year end target.

Wheelchair Services

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what the level of funding was for the Harrow Wheelchair Service in each of the last five years; [8171]

Jacqui Smith: Figures for individual wheelchair services are not held centrally. Funding for wheelchair services is part of health authorities general allocations. It is for health authorities in partnership with primary care groups/trusts and other local stakeholders to determine how best to use their funds to meet national and local priorities for improving health, tackling health inequalities and modernising services. Health authority allocations for 2002–03 were announced on 6 December 2001.

NHS Reform and Health Care Professions Bill

Dr. Fox: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on the use of confidential information held by community health councils following the implementation of the NHS Reform Bill. [22324]

Ms Blears: The use and storage of confidential records is covered by the Data Protection Act 1998 and Health Service Council 1999/053 "For the Record". This issue will form part of the formal transition process to the new system that will be managed following consultation with the Transition Advisory Board.

Beta Interferon

Vernon Coaker: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what discussions he has had with drug companies

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on the reduction of the cost of beta interferon in the UK to the level of other European countries; and if he will make a statement. [23322]

Ms Blears: The Department has held discussions with Schering, Biogen and Serono, the manufacturers of the three beta interferon products licensed in the United Kingdom, and with Aventis and Teva, who jointly market Copaxone (glatiramer), in relation to the possible provision of these therapies for patients with multiple sclerosis in a manner which could be considered to be cost effective. These discussions began on 5 September, after the Department and other consultees had received copies of the preliminary appraisal determination of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, and are still continuing.

Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment he has made of the prescribing policy of Gloucestershire health authority of beta interferon; and if he will make a statement. [29309]

Ms Blears [holding answer 22 January 2002]: In Gloucestershire health authority beta interferon is prescribed to patients with relapsing/remitting multiple sclerosis who fulfil the clinical criteria of the guidelines of the Association of British Neurologists. The health authority has provided additional funding of £300,000 a year to meet the costs of this treatment. This policy will be reviewed following the publication of guidance by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.

Asylum Seekers

Mr. Woodward: To ask the Secretary of State for Health, pursuant to his answer of 31 October 2001, Official Report, column 828W, on asylum seekers, how many local authorities claimed grant for (a) under 16-year-olds, and (b) 16 and 17-year-olds in (i) 1997, (ii) 1998, (iii) 1999, and (iv) 2000. [17822]

Jacqui Smith [holding answer 27 January 2002]: The information requested is in the table. Data for 2000–01 on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children have been supplied by the Home Office which now administers the grant.

LAs claiming UASC grantFor under-16s onlyFor over-16s onlyFor both age groups

(24) In 1996–97 and 1997–98 no distinction was made between age groups in terms of amounts claimable, so no separate figures are available.

Community Nurses

Ms Shipley: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many community nurses are employed in the West Midlands. [23703]

Yvette Cooper: Work force data do not show figures for community nurses separately. Figures for hospital and community nurses are shown in the table.

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NHS Hospital and Community Health Services (HCHS): Nursing, midwifery and health visiting staff within the community nursing areas of work by qualification in the West Midlands regional office area as at 30 September 2000

Whole-time equivalentsHeadcount
All staff7,4609,890
of which:
Health Visitors1,1101,410
District Nurses1,4001,740
Other community nursing4,9506,740
of which:
Community psychiatric1,4201,550
of which:
Community learning difficulties1,2301,500
of which:
Community services2,3103,700
Of which:


Figures are rounded to the nearest 10

Figures exclude learners and agency staff

Due to rounding totals may not equal the sum of component parts


Department of Health non-medical workforce census

Nursing Home Fees

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessments he has made of the compliance of the Review Panels to be established in order to adjudicate on the liability under Coughlan v. North Devon Health Authority, C.A. 1999 of a patient's property to be charged to pay for nursing home fees under Department of Health circular HSC 2001/015:LAC(2001)18 of 28 June, 2001 with Article VI of the Human Rights Act in (a) composition and (b) independence. [22958]

Jacqui Smith: [holding answer 18 December 2001]: Counsel's view was sought before Health Service Circular 2001/015: Local Authority Circular (2001)18 was released, including compliance with the Human Rights Act 2000. Article 6 requires that in the determination of a person's civil rights and obligations there should be a fair and independent decision making process. A decision about whether someone is entitled to particular national health service services or particular local authority services is not considered to be a determination of a civil right within the meaning of article 6.

The question of whether a patient's property can be set against charges for nursing home fees is not a function of review panels.

The issue of nursing home fees is discussed in HSC 2001/17:LAC(2001)26 "Guidance on free nursing care in nursing homes" issued on 25 September 2001.

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Neither the free nursing care nor the continuing care guidance deals with issues of whether the value of a patient's property should be included in the means test when assessing an individual's contribution towards the cost of nursing home fees. The relevant guidance, regarding local councils contribution to the costs of accommodation and board, is in the charges for residential accommodation guidance, which is underpinned by National Assistance (Assessment of Resources) Regulations 1992, regulation 25. Some of these decisions have to comply with article 6 of the Human Rights Act, and in these cases the complaints panel should be independent of the council.

NHS Appointments

Mr. Burns: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) how many people who have been appointed to a position within the NHS by the NHS Appointments Commission have declared a political interest, broken down by political parties; and what proportion of the total number of appointees this represents for each political party; [24635]

Ms Blears [holding answer 8 January 2002]: Since its establishment on 1 April 2001 the National Health Service Appointments Commission has made 608 appointments to 313 bodies. 218 of those appointed had declared political activity in the previous five years. The breakdown by political party is given in the table, both under the Commission, and in relation to appointments made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State immediately before the Commission was established.

Appointments made by the Secretary of State to NHS trusts, health authorities and primary care trusts as at 31 March 2001 according to declaration on political activity

Liberal Democrat1233.2
No political activity declared2,67169.8

Appointments made by the NHS Appointments Commission to NHS trusts, health authorities and primary care trusts, as at 10 January 2002 according to declaration on political activity

Liberal Democrat335.4
No political activity declared39064.2

29 Jan 2002 : Column 269W

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