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Mr. Blunt: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what the target time is for his Department to reply to letters from (a) hon. Members and (b) members of the public; and what the time is that it has been taking his Department to reply to letters from (i) hon. Members and (ii) members of the public in the last six months. 
Ms Blears: Information is published annually by the Cabinet Office on the volume of correspondence from Members of Parliament received by Ministers and agency chief executives, Departments' and Agencies' handling targets, and their performance in meeting these targets. The report for 2001 is due to be published shortly.
Mr. Wiggin: To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he will respond to the letter from the hon. Member for Leominster dated 17 January, concerning the payment of widows' pensions under the NHS Pension Scheme. 
Community and cottage hospitals play an important role in providing care closer to home, for example in carrying out day surgery, minor procedures and caring for patients in the recuperative phases of recovery from illness or accident. These hospitals will help us meet our target of introducing an additional 5,000 intermediate care beds by 2004, of which more than 2,400 are already in place.
Data on bed numbers are collected annually at national health service trust level, rather than by individual hospital site. Information on bed availability and occupancy is available on the Department's website www.doh.gov.uk/ hospitalactivity.
17 Apr 2002 : Column 1015W
Mr. Hutton: In the general and acute sector in England, the number of beds available in 200001 increased by over 700 to 135,794 compared with the year before. This represents a third of the target of 2,100 extra general and acute beds set out in the NHS Plan. Further information is shown in the table.
|All ward types||186,290||186,091||-199|
|General and acute (acute plus geriatric)||135,080||135,794||714|
Department of Health form KH03
The programme of PEAT visits commenced in 2000, and a further round of inspections is currently in process. To date a total of 1,060 unannounced inspections of the quality of food have been carried out, this figure will rise to 1,172 by the end of the current round of PEAT inspections.
Ms Blears: The requirement for hospitals to introduce a 24-hour catering service was included in the NHS Plan. The better hospital food programme, launched on 8 May 2001, set out details of the 24-hour service which should include a ward kitchen service, a snack box service and, by 2004, a light bite service. £4 million was issued to NHS trusts in January 2001 to assist in setting up 24-hour services.
The implementation pack issued to all national health service trusts in support of the better hospital food programme included three examples of snack boxes. However hospitals are not required to introduce these exact versionseach hospital should determine the types of snack box(es) used, and their precise contents, taking into account patient-mix and the advice of catering managers, nursing staff and dietitians.
17 Apr 2002 : Column 1016W
Ms Blears: The better hospital food programme, announced in the NHS Plan, is a long-term initiative designed to improve the quality, availability of and access to food in NHS hospitals. It is supported by the investment of £38.5 million over four years.
It is increasingly being recognised that ensuring patients, many of whom enter hospital malnourished or over-nourished, receive and can benefit form adequate and appropriate nutrition plays a key part in the overall healthcare they receive and can lead to speedier recovery, reduced length of stay, reduced incidence of post operative complications such as pressure sores and poor wound healing and may lead to reduced expenditure on drugs, particularly antibiotics, used to combat these.
Hospital dieticians have a crucial role to play in ensuring that these benefits are realised through: advising on the formulation of hospital menus to ensure that nutritional standards are delivered for all patients, including those with specific dietary need; monitoring the nutritional intake of patients, particularly those at greatest risk; and advising individual patients on the nutritional values of foods, in order to help them make informed choices about their food intake to meet both their dietary needs and those of their clinical condition.
To this end NHS Estates has been working closely with representatives of the British Dietetic Association who are developing a consensus statement on "Food Service and the State Registered Dietitian" which will cover standards for the professions in a number of key areas: nutritional analysis of recipes and menus; diet coding definitions and standard glossary of terms. This will be a key document enabling standard criteria to be applied across the NHS.
Additionally, an ad hoc working group which includes nutritional experts, representatives of the British Dietetic Association, NHS dietitians and nurses is devising principles for nutritional screening which will facilitate the measurement of both under and over nutrition on entry to hospital. This will allow early intervention of clinical and dietetic staff to address problems which, unchecked, may lead to prolonged ill health. In addition research will be undertaken to establish the clinical outcomes of improved nutrition and to provide a tool to ensure that the nutritional aims of the better hospital food programme are taking effect.
Ms Blears: The requirement for hospitals to introduce a 24-hour catering service was included in the NHS Plan. The better hospital food programme, launched on 8 May 2001, set out details of the 24-hour service which should include a ward kitchen service, a snack box service and, by 2004, a light bite service. £4 million was issued to national health service trusts in January 2001 to assist in setting up 24-hour services.
The most recent returns from acute NHS trusts shows that 69 per cent. of hospitals have introduced ward kitchen services and 66 per cent. provide snack boxes. No figures are yet available regarding the number that have introduced light bite services.
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Mr. Hutton: The Better Hospital Food programme, which was launched in May 2001, is supported by the provision of £38.5 million over four years. It is a longer term initiative designed to improve the quality, availability of and access to food in hospitals.
The majority of those hospitals which are still working towards this target are those which use external suppliers. NHS Estates are working closely with the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency and the external manufacturers to increase the availability of 'leading chef' dishes from these sources so that hospitals with delivered meals services can move swiftly to incorporate them in their menus.
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