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Meat Hygiene Service

6. John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross): When he next plans to meet the chief executive of the Food Standards Agency to discuss the Meat Hygiene Service. [82621]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ms Hazel Blears): Ministers have regular meetings with the chairman, deputy chair and chief executive of the Food Standards Agency to discuss issues of mutual interest, including the Meat Hygiene Service.

John Thurso : Is the Minister aware of the grave concern being expressed by vets throughout Scotland about the way in which the recent contract for official veterinary surgeons was awarded, and in particular about allegations that officials from the service pressurised vets by telephone into lowering their

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tenders? Is not such horse trading posing a real threat to both the quality of the service and the quality of meat for human consumption?

Ms Blears: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is absolutely vital that the Meat Hygiene Service puts quality first and has due regard to public health. He will know that the procurement process has been carried out in accordance with the Government's rules through the clear drawing up of a specification, the inviting and evaluation of tenders, and the making of awards. I am informed that there are 13 contracts in the highlands and islands, eight of which have been retained by local vets. A deliberate attempt was made to ensure a variety of suppliers, and local vets were encouraged to take part in the tendering process.

Mr. Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey): The Minister will know that obesity in children has been a cause for concern in the past couple of years. I wonder whether she has discussed with the Food Standards Agency applying to food the same principle that has been applied to tobacco: labelling food that has all the wrong sugar content, so that parents can know how dangerous such foods are.

Mr. Speaker: Order. That point has nothing to do with the question before us. I call Mr. Fabricant.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): When does the Minister meet Ministers from other Departments to discuss the illegal importation of meat? Is she aware that, from time to time, meat that should be banned is being brought into this country and is entering the food chain? Is she further aware that in Australia, New Zealand and the United States, sniffer dogs are used to prevent such importation? When will she have discussions with Treasury and Home Office Ministers to ensure that ports of entry are tightly controlled to prevent such illegal meat importation?

Ms Blears: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Ministers are in constant contact with Ministers in other Departments and in other jurisdictions to ensure that the meat that enters this country is of a high quality. As I said to the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), public health concerns are obviously a key issue in all our considerations. The hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) will also know that we have had considerable success in discovering criminal gangs involved in the adulteration of meat in this country. They have been prosecuted by local authorities, and substantial penalties have been imposed on them. This Government take the issue of ensuring that our meat is of the highest quality, and that the supply chain has integrity, extremely seriously.

Asthma Management

7. Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): What assessment he has made of the Buteyko method of asthma management. [82622]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Jacqui Smith): Following the Adjournment debate on the Buteyko technique in June, the chief medical officer

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asked his special projects officer to investigate the claims made for the technique. He found that the technique was helpful for some patients with asthma, but that more research was needed into it.

Mrs. Campbell : I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Will she look carefully at the trial in Nottingham, which is being funded by the National Asthma Campaign, and at the trial at Glasgow university? The latter has shown that asthma patients who are taught to breathe correctly can achieve a 98 per cent. reduction in reliever medication, and a 92 per cent. reduction in preventive medication. Does she agree that that is an excellent way to save on the NHS drugs bill?

Jacqui Smith: I understand that the chief executive of the National Asthma Campaign wrote to the chief medical officer in September, giving some of the preliminary results of the Nottingham inquiry to which my hon. Friend refers. The trial in Scotland, which is being undertaken by Jill McGowan, is still in progress and will not be finished until April 2003. At that stage, conclusions can be formally evaluated using peer review. I agree with my hon. Friend that, given the success that we have already achieved in reducing the incidence of asthma, we must continue to ensure that, where well-researched and successful interventions exist, they are available to patients on the NHS. What is important is that we do the research necessary to show that this method would be as clinically effective as the drug treatments that are proving effective at the moment.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth): Surely the Minister must recognise that sufficient evidence has been provided in this regard by the 1995 Brisbane trial alone. That trial showed that broncodilator use declined by more than 90 per cent., and that steroid use decreased by 49 per cent., through the Buteyko breathing technique. She has referred to other treatments that might be considered in the health service, but is she aware that some 12 complementary therapies—such as yoga, nutritional medicine and the Alexander technique, which deals with posture—could be inexpensively deployed? When will the Government take seriously such treatments, which are very effective, instead of just paying lip service to them?

Jacqui Smith: I am the lucky Minister who has to answer the hon. Gentleman's question on complementary medicines today. Obviously, approaches and techniques that give asthma patients lasting relief and greater control of their lives are to be welcomed. That includes the use of complementary therapies, which primary care trusts can commission if they consider them to be effective, in clinical and cost terms, for a particular health need. However, although techniques such as the Buteyko method and others to which the hon. Gentleman referred may have significant benefit, there is no robust scientific evidence that any complementary therapy on its own can provide a lasting cure for asthma. It would therefore be wrong to build up patients' hopes that their asthma could be cured without resort to an existing drug therapy. However, as I made clear to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), the chief medical officer and the

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Medical Research Council have accepted that more research is needed. Having been an asthma sufferer for some years myself, and I hope that that research will be undertaken.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): Should not we consider asthma in the context of chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases? Is my hon. Friend aware of the COPD patient manifesto, launched on world COPD day in November? Will she join me in congratulating the British Lung Foundation, and local Breathe Easy groups such as the one in my constituency, on their work in raising awareness of these ailments, and in providing support for sufferers? Will her Department make a formal response to the COPD patient manifesto?

Jacqui Smith: My hon. Friend makes an important point about the role of professional, voluntary and patient organisations in raising awareness of conditions, and of some of the effective techniques that patients understand can be used in treatments. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be aware of the Department's expert patient programme. By means of a series of pilot schemes, it is looking for ways to ensure that professionals and patients can work together more effectively to enable patients to manage their conditions. I shall certainly look at the patient manifesto to which my hon. Friend has referred with close interest.

Eastbourne District General Hospital

8. Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): If he will make a statement on funding for Eastbourne district general hospital in 2002–03. [82624]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): Eastbourne district general hospital is now part of the new East Sussex hospitals NHS trust. The total income for the trust this year is £178 million, an 8.5 per cent. increase in funding for its component sites over 2001–02. In the course of this year, the trust received an additional £440,000 to support additional activity.

Mr. Waterson : Is the Minister aware that that answer is a disgrace? Has he not seen my letter to the Secretary of State of 21 November, in which I raised the specific issue about which I want to hear—the trust's current deficit of £5 million? Where will that money come from? Will it come from the primary care trust, central Government, or from cuts in services in my local hospital?

Mr. Hutton: I am sorry to have offended the hon. Gentleman. I was going to thank him for writing to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and giving us an indication of what his supplementary question would be. I have no intention of avoiding the question that the hon. Gentleman has raised. He will be aware that the NHS in East Sussex received an additional £60 million in total for this year, an increase of more than 10 per cent. in cash terms. It is incumbent on me to point out that the hon. Gentleman voted against the NHS receiving those additional resources. However, I know that he rightly takes an interest in the NHS in his constituency, so I am sure that he will know that the

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trust board met last Wednesday to discuss how to resolve the matters to which he has referred. The board has developed an action plan to deal with precisely the point that the hon. Gentleman has raised. If he is not aware of the decisions taken last week by the trust board, I will ensure that he receives a full copy of its report.

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