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Child Mortality (Luton)

13. Margaret Moran (Luton, South): What further measures he intends to take to tackle child mortality in Luton. [103205]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Jacqui Smith): A range of health initiatives are already being undertaken in Luton to contribute towards reducing child mortality. I was pleased to be able to visit the Our House project in my hon. Friend's constituency, where health visitors, other health professionals and parents are working together to safeguard their children's health and futures. In addition, we are increasing funding to Luton teaching primary care trust significantly to help tackle inequalities, of which child mortality is a particularly important one.

Margaret Moran : As my hon. Friend is aware, Luton suffers from a high level of infant mortality: 6.5 per 1,000 births, as opposed to the UK-wide average of 5.5—a tragic indicator of health deprivation. Is she aware that in terms of funding, Luton primary care trust is one of the furthest from capitation? At the end of a three-year period, it will be one of the eight PCTs furthest away from capitation. Although we are extremely grateful for the additional funding that we have received for many health projects in our area, for our Government have committed themselves to improve health care—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Lady has said quite enough.

Jacqui Smith: I understand my hon. Friend's concern. I know that she is keen to tackle health inequalities, so

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I am sure she welcomes the fact that Luton PCT will receive an increase of more than 32 per cent. over the next three years, of which a significant part is a rolling-over of the health inequalities adjustment. Although I recognise her point, the allocations policy will reduce the discrepancy between Luton's financial position and its distance from target. We believe that we have struck the right balance for the present allocation round, but we will consider the policy in the light of all the circumstances when we outline the next set of allocations.

Budget Deficits

14. Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): What recent advice he has given to (a) strategic health authorities and (b) local health economies on dealing with projected budget deficits. [103206]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ms Hazel Blears): All NHS organisations have been asked to plan for financial balance. We have asked strategic health authorities and their local health economies to work together to ensure that this is achieved. Primary care trusts have an important role to play in commissioning quality and affordable services from local trusts within the resources available.

Dr. Harris : Is part of the Minister's advice that the NHS locally should sack good chief executives or encourage them to resign when there is a deficit, like the £18 million deficit at the Oxford Radcliffe hospital, where David Highton, recognised as one of the best chief executives in the country, has resigned because he has been unable to achieve financial balance and meet the Government's targets because of the millions of pounds that he has had to spend on agency nurses to create the capacity that the hon. Lady's Government have failed to achieve in the Oxford area?

Ms Blears: The hon. Gentleman knows that management issues are a matter for the local trust, not for Ministers. He also knows that because of our ambitions for the service, there are indeed pressures on many health economies throughout the country because of our need to increase capacity and give patients more access to the service. He knows that we have the biggest increase in investment that the NHS has ever known— a 7.5 per cent. real terms increase for the next five years. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will welcome the massive investment that there has been in his community in the form of the new trauma centre, an increase in prescribing budgets, an increase in money for coronary heart disease and a range of other services in his local area. [Interruption.] There are challenges for the PCTs to face, but the investment is without question the largest that the NHS has ever known.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. May I once again appeal to the House to be much quieter? I can hardly hear the questions and answers and it is unfair if hon. Members cannot hear what the Minister is saying or if the Minister cannot hear the questioner.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): When we visited the Minister recently to talk to her about the deficit of

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the Kennet and North Wiltshire primary care trust, she expressed what can best be described as indifference to its indebtedness. That means that there is now a threat to the local hospitals in Malmesbury and Devizes, just outside my constituency. Does she regret that indifference and does she believe that there is anything that can she do about the issue? What will she do to save Malmesbury hospital?

Ms Blears: I had an extremely constructive meeting, not with the hon. Gentleman, but with his colleague, the right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), and the chairman and chief executive of the local primary care trust, who showed me that they were determined to ensure that they could improve services for that local community. They are under financial pressure, but they have had an extra £45 million of investment in their local health services. I say to him that the comments that he has made in his local press about my alleged remarks are entirely untrue and a travesty of the meeting that I held with him. I am always willing to help local Members of Parliament, but in this case, he has not shown the necessary support to his local health community.

Community Pharmacies

15. Andy Burnham (Leigh): If he will make a statement on the implications for his Department of the Office of Fair Trading report on community pharmacies. [103207]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. David Lammy): We have so far received about 1,000 responses to the OFT report on community pharmacies. It is the Government's intention to respond to the report within the next few weeks. We are working with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to ensure that our response properly reflects the interests of NHS patients in providing access and choice for improved local pharmacy services.

Andy Burnham : I fully support the vision of my hon. Friend's Department for the future role and development of community pharmacies, but can I tell him that the OFT's recommendations on scrapping control of entry regulations threaten to drive a coach and horses through his Department's policy? I represent an area of small towns with high chronic illness and low car ownership. Those towns have already lost banks and post offices. May I urge him to ask his DTI colleagues to reject the OFT's recommendations?

Mr. Lammy: My hon. Friend will appreciate that one cannot go through the Lobby as Minister with responsibility for pharmacy services at the moment without being lobbied by almost every MP about this important issue. That is a testimony to the work that community pharmacies do in all our areas. They provide valuable services in deprived communities and rural and suburban communities alike. It is right that we consider the proposals against our wider policy objectives in the Department of Health for community pharmacies.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth): Is the Minister not aware that, as things stand, he will be known as the man who shut down the rural pharmacies? Something should

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be done about that. Would he not be much better off ensuring that pharmacies in the countryside provide a range of complementary therapies?

Mr. Lammy: What would shut down the pharmacies is a 20 per cent. cut across the board. We have 90 days to consider the report and we are doing so very carefully.

Free Fruit Scheme

16. Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East and Washington, West): If he will make a statement on the operation of the free fruit scheme in schools. [103208]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ms Hazel Blears): We are committed to introducing a national school fruit scheme that will entitle four to six-year-olds to free fruit daily from 2004. The scheme is currently being rolled out region by region with funding from the New Opportunities Fund. By July, the scheme will be reaching about 1 million children.

Joyce Quin : I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. When I was an Agriculture Minister, I helped to launch the scheme and was delighted by the enthusiasm for it in some inner-city schools. Given that the House is so full, I am glad that so many people are present to hear me express my hope that the scheme will be extended to Gateshead, Sunderland and the north-east as soon as possible.

Ms Blears: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that the scheme is hugely popular. About 88 per cent. of eligible schools have already taken it up and we are looking to roll it out to other regions over the next few school terms. I have visited school fruit projects in Newham and Runcorn, where children have hugely

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welcomed the apples, pears, bananas and oranges that they are getting every day. The scheme is making a real impact not only on their health, but on the curriculum. We are using it as a way of engaging children in improving their health and nutrition, and extending to their families ideas about getting school fruit, a healthy diet and the best possible start in life—something that should be available to all our children.

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