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17 Dec 2003 : Column 991Wcontinued
Tim Loughton: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what early retirement packages are available for staff in his Department and what additions to those packages have been made available in the last year. 
Ms Rosie Winterton: The early retirement packages available to staff in the Department are those under the terms of the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme. The Department has not made available any additions to these packages in the last year.
|Number of staff|
(27) Includes 66 staff based in the Department's former regional offices, which were closed as a direct result of the "Shifting the Balance of Power" programme.
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Ms Rosie Winterton [holding answer 15 December 2003]: Electronic magnifiers are considered to be aids to daily living and as such, their provision is the responsibility of social services departments as they are considered to be aids to daily living. They can be given if it is felt that their provision is warranted. However, hand-held, stand and spectacle-mounted magnifiers are generally considered to be easier to use, more widely available, more accessible and more cost effective.
The Hospital Eye Service is responsible for providing optical devices and loans low vision aids, such as high-powered reading lenses, hand-held and stand magnifiers and telescopes to people with visual impairment. In addition, some primary care trusts have local arrangements for the provision of low vision aids through community based opticians.
Dr. Ladyman: In February 2003, we published an action plan for epilepsy services which addresses the key recommendations in the National Clinical Audit of Epilepsy Related Deaths audit and the Chief Medical Officer's 2001 Annual Report on epilepsy. This will be complemented by two key initiatives, which are planned for publication next year. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) is developing a clinical guideline for the diagnosis, management and treatment of epilepsy, which it plans to publish next July. It is also looking at the clinical and cost effectiveness of new anti-epilepsy drugs in children and adults and plans to publish an appraisal in the new year. These will help address any variations in clinical practice and contribute to the improvement of services. We are developing the national service framework (NSF) for long-term conditions, which will focus on improving the standard of general neurology care across England for people with conditions such as epilepsy. The NSF will address a range of key issues, for example: the need for equitable access to a range of services; good quality information and support, for patients and carers; the ability to see a specialist and get the right investigations and diagnosis as quickly as possible; and, maintaining independence and quality of life. We currently plan to publish the NSF late next year for implementation over 10 years from 2005.
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Mr. Baron: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans he has to change the level of funding available for services for long-term epilepsy sufferers at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham. 
Dr. Ladyman: Primary care trusts (PCTs) in partnership with strategic health authorities (SHAs) and other local stakeholders determine how best to use their funds to meet national and local priorities for improving health, tackling health inequalities and modernising services.
The pan-Birmingham epilepsy group, including representatives from the acute national health service trusts and PCTs within Birmingham is currently reviewing the provision of epilepsy services across the city.
Over the three years from 200203 to the end of 200506 the total allocation to PCTs will increase in cash terms by £12.7 billion or 30.8 per cent. That is a significant level of investment and should deliver real benefits and results. The allocation includes resources to finance the cost of pay reform, new drugs and treatments and additional capacity.
University Hospital Birmingham National Health Service Trust has 32 dedicated in-patient neurology beds which are used by epilepsy patients. There are currently no in-patient beds within Birmingham specifically designated for epilepsy. Patients requiring such beds are referred to the National Society for Epilepsy in London.
Out-patient services are provided for the whole of the West Midlands region at the Queen Elizabeth Psychiatric Hospital for around 1,500 patients a year. Around 40 per cent. of patients are referred from Birmingham. There is an active electro encephalography department, with overnight monitoring for people with difficult-to-control epilepsy or in cases of diagnostic difficulty.
Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps he is taking to ensure that general practitioner prescribing computer systems do not prevent pharmacists dispensing generic brands of the same drug with a different formulation; and if he will make a statement. 
Ms Rosie Winterton: There are a number of commercially available computer systems that general practitioners may decide on their own initiative to use in assisting their choice of what medicine to prescribe for a patient. Any system used by a GP must meet a core set of Requirements for Accreditation (RFA). RFA was
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introduced in April 1993 to ensure general medical practice computer systems provided an agreed level of core functionality and conformed to national standards.
All generic medicines licensed for national health service use must meet the strict requirements of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and must be equivalent to, and have the same therapeutic effect as, the branded formulation. Some manufacturers of generic medicines may choose to market their product by using a brand name. In other instances, for example in the case of modified release generic medicines, the MHRA may require that these medicines are prescribed by a brand name so as to avoid any problems concerning bio-availability. However these products must also be licensed by the MHRA.
On receiving a script from a patient, a pharmacist is obliged to dispense the branded product if one has been specified by a GP. If, however, a GP has prescribed a generic medicine then a pharmacist is free to chose from amongst a range of licensed generic medicines.
When officials recently became aware that a major pharmaceutical company ad sought to change GP databases to default to their formulation of a medicine, action was taken to ensure that GPs were aware and prepared to over-ride their systems to select their preferred medicine.
These arrangements should be sufficient to prevent a pharmacist from dispensing any NHS generic medicine that has a different formulation from that prescribed by a GPwhether or not a GP used a computer system in making that decision. The forthcoming renegotiations of the 1999 Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme will be used to consider the need for even stronger controls in this area.
Miss Melanie Johnson: The application for authorisation of Bt11 sweet maize as a novel food was made to the Netherlands in 1999, under Regulation (EC) No. 258/97. A further European Commission Regulation, Commission Regulation 1852/2001, lays down detailed rules on the making of information relating to such applications available to the public. These rules are concerned with striking the right balance as between the protection of information submitted by applicants and the public interest in the disclosure of that information. They provide for the Commission to publish a summary of the dossier on Bt11 sweet maize and the initial assessment of that dossier by the member state to which the application was made. It is not, therefore, for the United Kingdom authority to publish such information.
Joan Ruddock: To ask the Secretary of State for Health whether the requirements for a post approval safety monitoring plan specified in the new food and feed regulations for GM foods will be applied to Bt11 sweetcorn. 
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Miss Melanie Johnson: Regulation 1829/2003 on genetically modified food and feed comes into effect on 18 April 2004. This regulation does not impose a requirement for the post marketing monitoring of all genetically modified foods, although monitoring may be required in specific cases based on the outcome of the risk assessment. The authorisation of Bt11 sweetcorn is currently being considered under the novel food legislation (regulation 258/97) and does not include a requirement for post-market monitoring.
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