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Dr. Evan Harris: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will rank health authorities in England in order of the highest waiting times for hospital operations, according to the numbers waiting (a) over six months and (b) over 12 months for in-patient treatments. 
Mr. Hutton: Information about waiting times in the current year is not available by health authority. We are currently progressing work to collect waiting times data from primary care trusts to reflect the new organisations that came into being in April 2002.
Mr. Paul Marsden: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what the average waiting time was for a patient to see (a) a general practitioner and (b) a consultant in each year since 1997; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Hutton: Data on actual or average patient waiting times to see a general practitioner are not collected or held by the Department.
From September 2001 data are being collected quarterly on the lead time for the first available appointment with each GP practice.
From the March 2002 survey, results showed that 75 per cent. of practices, with appointment systems in place, could offer a patient an appointment with a GP within two working days.
The table shows the average (median) waiting time for patients to be seen for their first out-patient appointment following GP written referral. Over this period the number of out-patient attendance's have increased by 407,000 (5.3 per cent.)
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|Median wait (weeks)|
Department of Health form QM08
Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what targets have been set for 200203 for the Director of International Recruitment for Health Services for the number of foreign recruited nurses working in the NHS. 
Mr. Hutton: A combination of international recruitment, return to practice, improved retention and increased output from training has meant that the NHS Plan increase of 20,000 more nurses by 2004 has been achieved well in advance of the 2004 target.
The same methods will be used to ensure delivery of the manifesto target and further increases in the nursing workforce.
Mr. Liddell-Grainger: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what Department in the NHS is responsible for organising recruitment by way of the internet; and what its budget is. 
Mr. Hutton: The Department's human resources directorate is currently undertaking procurement for a national electronic (internet) recruitment service.
Full costings will be available once the contract has been awarded through the procurement process.
Dr. Evan Harris: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what incentives will be given to primary care trusts and strategic health authorities to encourage long-term use of international establishments. 
Mr. Hutton: Primary care trusts, working with their strategic health authorities, are responsible for identifying the health needs of their local populations and for arranging to meet these needs, commissioning services from an increasingly diverse range of healthcare providers. International establishment schemes that offer good value and high quality care services will have an increasingly important role in meeting these healthcare objectives. "Growing Capacity" sets out our plans for developing and managing the market to enable commissioners to make best use of the opportunities available.
Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) whether funding and co-ordination of liquid based cytology training for pathologists, screeners and smear- takers will be organised centrally through the NHS Cervical Screening Programme following the NICE review; 
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(3) what plans have been put in place to train staff in preparation for the roll-out of liquid based cytology cervical screening within six months of a positive NICE review; 
(4) what additional data relating to liquid based cytology is expected as a result of the English cervical screening pilot trials; 
(5) if it is anticipated that every laboratory which wants to offer liquid based cytology screening will be appropriately funded following the NICE review; 
(6) when NICE's review of the English pilot trials will be published; and who will be consulted as part of the review; 
Ms Blears: Changing to liquid based cytology (LBC) would be a major change to the way in which the national health service cervical screening programme is delivered. Before any new technology is introduced in the NHS, we must be sure that it is safe and effective, and that quality standards can be maintained.
The evaluation report of the three sites in the English LBC pilot is due in the autumn, and the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) will give their decision on its implementation across the NHS cervical screening programme in 2003. As part of this process, NICE will consult all relevant stakeholders including manufacturers, patient and professional groups.
We are discussing with experts in the field, NHS cancer screening programmes and the NHS Purchasing and Supplies Agency how best to introduce LBC if the NICE decision is positive, including training in laboratories and primary care and the potential impact of LBC on laboratory provision.
The evaluation of the pilot will provide data on the effects, costs and practical implications of introducing LBC technology into the NHS cervical screening programme.
Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if funding for setting up liquid based cytology cervical screening services will be provided direct to the laboratories, and if such funding will be ring-fenced. 
Ms Blears: The April 2002 Budget provides the highest sustained growth in national health service history: annual average increases of 7.4 per cent. per annum real terms over the five years 200304 to 200708. Decisions about the allocation of the increased funding will be announced later this year.
Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if companies will be allowed to work in partnership with the NHS to provide a better cervical screening service for women in the UK. 
Ms Blears: The National Health Service Purchasing and Supply Agency has supported the NHS cancer screening programmes within England by negotiating contracts for liquid based cytology for pilot study sites, and by providing commercial input into the development of the supply markets.
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The NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency is involved in ongoing discussions with suppliers of pathology products and services. The discussions include the potential benefits of working in partnership, the impact of partnerships on the NHS cervical screening programme and potential future developments which may enhance the service further.
Sandra Gidley: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) if he will make a statement on staffing shortages at the NHS Direct walk-in centre in Shirley, Southampton; 
Ms Blears: Shirley national health service walk-in centre is one of 42 such NHS centres which have been established in most of the major conurbations as part of a national programme to pilot nurse-led walk-in services. Each centre is managed by a project manager or lead nurse who is accountable to the local primary care trust. The overall pilot programme is co-ordinated by a national team.
On the weekend of Saturday 29 June and Sunday 30 June 2002, due to staff illnesses, and the lack of local suitably trained nurses, the NHS walk-in centre found that it would have had to close or run a reduced service unless cover could be found by temporarily redeploying nurses from other centres. Among those who provided this cover were two nurses from Manchester who, exceptionally, travelled by air from Manchester to Southampton. Their flight and accommodation costs totalled £669.
Sandra Gidley: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what measures he is taking to address staff shortages in NHS Direct walk-in centres; 
Mr. Hutton: Recruitment of National Health Service walk-in centre nurses is a local matter for primary care trusts and as such data on vacancies are not held centrally.
The NHS Plan sets out our commitment to implementing a range of measures to increase nurse recruitment and retention. As a new service which is expanding the role of nurses, NHS walk-in centres are contributing to this by offering an attractive option for nurses to expand and develop their skills and experience.
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