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19 Jan 2004 : Column 1071W—continued

Sperm Counts

Dr. Gibson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on recent research from the Aberdeen Fertility Centre on sperm counts since 1989; what assessment he has made of links between harmful man-made chemicals in the environment and reduced sperm counts; and what steps his Department is taking to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals. [147231]

Miss Melanie Johnson: The research from the Aberdeen Fertility Centre has not been peer-reviewed or published, and has not been assessed by the Department. The Global assessment of the state-of-the-science of endocrine disrupters, by the World Health Organization (WHO) International Programme on Chemical Safety concluded in August 2002 that,

The WHO assessment also concluded that,

The Government research programme on trends in male reproductive health and the possible influences of occupational or environmental (or other) exposure to chemicals includes two studies on sperm counts. One is a study of Scottish male reproductive health (Medical Research Council Reproductive Biology Unit, Edinburgh). The other (which is co-funded with the European Chemical Industries Council) is a United Kingdom multi-centre study of occupational and environmental exposure to chemicals and male fertility (Universities of Manchester and Sheffield). The results will be published in due course.

The Government's chemical strategy was published in December 1999 and is available at http://www. Its main goals are to: phase out chemicals posing an unacceptable risk to human health or the environment as soon as possible; reduce as far as possible the risks posed by chemicals that are essential in our everyday lives, thus finding a balance between protecting health and the environment and retaining the socio-economic benefits that many chemicals provide; and make full information publicly available about the environmental and health risks of chemicals.

Waiting Times

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what mechanisms are in place to monitor progress made by (a) strategic health authorities and (b) primary care trusts in reducing waiting times for diagnostic testing. [147270]

Mr. Hutton: Waits for diagnostic services are not recorded nationally.

The Government is committed to improving access to diagnostic services and the Department is working in partnership with strategic health authorities (SHAs)

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and other stakeholders to secure a more responsive service. Each SHA is responsible for developing and implementing local improvement programmes for diagnostic services and to monitor progress against any locally agreed objectives.

Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what progress has been made by the Changing Workforce Programme in redesigning the roles of diagnostic staff to reduce waiting times. [147271]

Mr. Hutton: The Changing Workforce Programme is supporting the development of a number of roles designed to help the National Health Service provide speedier access to high quality services.

In particular, the roles of assistant practitioner and advanced practitioner will help reduce waiting times for radiography services. An accelerated development programme is supporting the implementation of these roles across a network of hospital trusts. To date, 81 assistant practitioners in radiography are in training or scheduled to receive training in 2004, while 79 trainees are working towards advanced practitioner status.

It is anticipated that the majority of plain film imaging will be performed by assistant practitioners under the supervision of qualified radiographers. This will release radiographers' time and allow them to focus on more complex issues, thus increasing service capacity. Once the assistant practitioners are fully trained, further data will be collected to evaluate the impact on waiting times and access to services.

The appointment of advanced practitioners in diagnostic areas such as computer tomography imaging, trauma imaging and gastro-intestinal imaging, has already contributed to a reduction in waiting times. For example, at one site, the waiting time for a barium enema has been reduced from 30 weeks to one week since advanced practitioners have been performing this procedure.

Dr. Murrison: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what the average wait was for patients to be seen by their own general practitioner in the last year for which figures are available; and what proportion were seen within 48 hours. [147511]

Mr. Hutton: Data are collected on availability of access to primary medical services rather than actual waiting times. Information for November 2003 shows that 94 per cent. of the population was able to be offered an appointment to see a general practitioner within two working days.


Benefit Fraud

John Barrett: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the programme protection strategy used by the Pension Service to prevent pension credit fraud since October 2003. [147828]

Malcolm Wicks: The programme protection strategy used to prevent loss in minimum income guarantee was reviewed to ensure its continued effectiveness once pension credit was introduced in October 2003.

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The review concluded that the strategy would continue to address those areas where fraud could occur in pension credit.

The strategy and introduction of pension credit presents opportunities for improved protection at the gateway during the teleapplication process and for making use of all our contacts with customers to help them get their applications correct from the outset. The use of intelligent questioning, targeted visits and contacts with customers based on established risk, and effective internal and external data matching, all support the prevention of pension credit fraud.

Positive efforts made in driving down the loss and the legislative changes introduced for pension credit have contributed towards the achievement of the Service Delivery Agreement target to reduce fraud and error overpayments to pensioners by 20 per cent. by March 2006.

Measurement of fraud and error in pension credit commenced in October 2003 and we expect to publish results for the first full year's data in July 2005. In the interim we will be undertaking an early examination of cases found to be incorrect so that we can refine the programme protection strategy as necessary.

Casual Appointments

Paul Holmes: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many employees have been employed on 13-week casual appointments in his Department in each year since 1997; and if he will make a statement. [147816]

Maria Eagle: The Department generally only employs people on casual appointments in order to fulfil a short term need. The information required is not held centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost.

Children Leaving Care

Mr. George Osborne: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what percentage of children who had been in local authority care were unemployed in the September after leaving school in each of the last five years. [147332]

Mr. Browne: The information requested is not available.

Council Tax

Mr. Clifton-Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of the cost of the new council tax benefit in the first full year of operation; and how it compares to the cost of the old council tax benefit, using the same methodology for the calculations. [146689]

Malcolm Wicks: Council tax benefit expenditure for 2003–04 is forecast to be £3.4 billion, and for 2004–05 to be £3.8 billion. However, on 15 December 2003, we announced reforms of council tax benefit, which included the abolition of restrictions for people living in band F, G and H properties. This is anticipated to take place from April 2004, with an expected additional cost of £6.5 million per annum benefiting 21,000 claimants.

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Departmental Relocation

Ms Walley: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many staff in his Department work in (a) the West Midlands and (b) north Staffordshire. [146914]

Maria Eagle: The number of staff working in the West Midlands and north Staffordshire is shown in the following table.

DWP Staff
West Midlands11,844
North Staffordshire726


1. Figures show headcount and are consistent with Cabinet Office definitions other than for the inclusion of staff on paid maternity leave.

2. Figures include temporary staff.

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