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7 Nov 2002 : Column 512W—continued

Public Health Laboratory Service

Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment he has made of the preparedness of systems to replace the Public Health Laboratory Service. [78783]

Ms Blears: In the Chief Medical Officer's strategy for combating infectious diseases, Getting ahead of the Curve, he proposed subsuming the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS), the centre for applied microbiology and research, the national radiological protection board and the national focus for chemical incidents into a single new body, the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

The specialist and reference functions of the PHLS, mostly the Central Public Health Laboratory, and the communicable disease surveillance centre are to enter the HPA in their entirety, retaining their existing systems.

Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for Health, what assessment he has made of the impact on the existing effectiveness of the National Network of Microbiology Laboratories of the proposed changes to the Public Health Laboratory Service. [78785]

Ms Blears: We are aware of the informal microbiology networking arrangements currently managed by the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS). We intend to strengthen and enhance the current PHLS arrangements in the process of transferring the routine microbiology laboratories to National Health Service trusts and to build on their example of good practice.

The Chief Executive of the NHS has written to the chief executives of the receiving NHS trusts emphasising the need for the transfer process to be as smooth and efficient as possible. Maintenance and enhancement of the he existing functional arrangements between laboratories currently in the PHLS is clearly an important part of the efficiency of the transfer process.

Mr. Heald: To ask the Secretary of State for Health when new replacement managed pathology networks are proposed to be established and effective to replace the Public Health Laboratory Service. [78784]

Ms Blears: As outlined in the recently published document, Future arrangements for microbiology laboratory services, all Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) laboratories, except for those designated as Health Protection Agency (HPA) laboratories, will transfer into the management of National Health Service trusts on 1 April 2003.

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The Department of Health document, Pathology—The Essential Service, Draft guidance on modernising pathology services, supported the development of managed pathology networks as an effective means of delivering improved pathology services.

The consultation period for this document ended on 30 September 2002. The results of the consultation are currently being considered. It is anticipated that new guidance will be released to the NHS in the new year.

Phsyical Activity Pilot Projects

Patsy Calton: To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he will publish further details of the physical activity pilot projects announced in May; and when the #2.5m funding for the projects is to be made available. [79184]

Ms Blears: Primary care trusts based in neighbourhood renewal fund areas were invited to submit expressions of interest by their regional directors of Public Health last month. These are currently being sifted by regional panels. The short-listed applicants will be asked to submit full applications by 20 December 2002. Awards will be announced in Spring 2003.

Alcohol Abuse

Sue Doughty: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans he has to reduce the waiting time for treatment for alcohol abuse; and if he will make a statement. [79375]

Ms Blears: Data on waiting times for alcohol treatment are not collected centrally as a matter of routine.

The Cabinet Office Strategy Unit and the Department of Health are currently conducting a joint consultation exercise on the national alcohol harm reduction strategy. The consultation exercise will run until 15 January 2003 and the strategy itself is due to be published in Summer 2003. The consultation exercise will seek the views of a wide range of stakeholders on a broad spectrum of alcohol misuse issues, including alcohol treatment. Copies are available in the Library or at: or,

Sue Doughty: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many deaths from alcohol abuse of (a) women and (b) men there were in each year from 1997 to 2001. [79376]

Ms Blears: Information collected centrally about the cause of deaths does not systematically record whether a death is attributable to alcohol misuse. A number of health and lifestyle factors can contribute to diseases such as cancer, stroke and coronary heart disease, and it can be difficult to isolate alcohol consumption as the most important of these factors.

A research review commissioned by the Department in 1997 concluded that between 5,000 and 40,000 deaths are attributable to alcohol misuse each year in England and Wales.

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Drug and Alcohol Abuse

Sue Doughty: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment he has made of the results of the separation of support for drug and alcohol reduction strategies; and if he will make a statement. [79374]

Ms Blears: In 1998 the United Kingdom Anti-Drug Co-ordination Unit (UKADCU) developed the national drug strategy. The focus of this strategy was illegal drugs, crime reduction and enforcement. Key planks of the strategy centred upon availability and supply issues that would clearly not have been applicable to legal substances. As alcohol is not illegal it was decided it would be inappropriate to include it in this strategy.

The Government are committed to implementing the national alcohol harm reduction strategy by 2004, and work on developing the strategy is currently being taken forward by the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit, the Department of Health and other Government Departments. The strategy is due to be published in Summer 2003, and it will contain recommendations on the most effective ways of implementation across Government, including any links to be made with the implementation of the drugs strategy.


Mr. Hoyle: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans he has to increase funds to hospices (a) in the UK and (b) in Lancashire. [79577]

Ms Blears: The NHS Cancer Plan, published in September 2000, pledged that the National Health Service contribution to the costs of specialist palliative care (including hospices) would increase by #50 million by 2004.

Progress to date has been slow. We have therefore asked Professor Mike Richards, the National Cancer Director, to work with the NHS and the voluntary sector to develop proposals for a new approach to specialist palliative care funding that will ensure delivery of the #50 million increase and develop a mechanism to secure long term investment. Professor Richards has been asked to report to Ministers later this Autumn.

To support this initiative, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health announced on 2 October that we are making available an extra #10 million for specialist palliative care services in 2002–03. It will be for local health communities, with their voluntary sector partners, to decide how this funding should be deployed in support of the Cancer Plan objectives.

Funding for specialist palliative care services in Scotland and Wales is the responsibility of the devolved administrations, and whilst the institutions in Northern Ireland are dissolved, responsibility rests with Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office.

Emergency Care

Ms Oona King: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps are being taken to implement the recommendations of the Reforming Emergency Care document in respect of addressing the recruitment and retention difficulties in accident and emergency departments. [79266]

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Ms Blears: Reforming Emergency Care recommended breaking down over rigid demarcation barriers to enable more flexible ways of working throughout National Health Service emergency care provision. This included separating patients into ''streams'' according to need and enabling nurse practitioners to take a much greater role in dealing with patients. Central investment of #40 million has already enabled the recruitment of 600 additional accident and emergency (A&E) nurses to support the separation of services for patients with minor injuries or illness from those with more serious conditions.

The access care group workforce team has been set up to take forward the recommendations of Reforming Emergency Care on workforce planning and development to help ensure for the longer term we have the right number of staff, with the right skills, in the right place.

Infection Risk Assessment

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans he has to adopt similar proposals to those introduced in Scotland on the development of training packages for NHS staff groups on healthcare-associated infection risk assessment and management; and if he will make a statement. [79697]

Mr. Hutton: The National Health Service University (NHSU), the organisation set-up by the Department to establish a university for the National Health Service, is leading a pilot project to deliver training programmes in cleaning, at NVQ Level One, and infection control, leading to a college certificate. It is expected that at least 4,000 NHS staff will have benefited from this initiative by the end of the pilot project in May 2003. The project will be evaluated and if successful, these or similar programmes will form part of NHSU's ongoing portfolio of courses.

Our strategy to combat infectious disease, Getting Ahead of the Curve, aims to reassert control over serious infectious disease problems and identified healthcare associated infection (HCAI) as a priority area. A new targeted action plan to address HCAI is being developed and this will consider training. The plan should be ready around the end of the year.

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