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12 Feb 2004 : Column 1678W—continued

Food Supplements

Mr. Hammond: To ask the Secretary of State for Health following the granting of leave by the High Court for a case against the Food Supplements Directive to be taken to the European Court of Justice, if he will press the Commission to attempt to achieve a political agreement that the European Food Safety Authority will only set maximum limits for permitted levels of nutrients in supplements on grounds of safety. [154109]

Miss Melanie Johnson: The Government awaits the outcome of the reference of the validity of the Food Supplements Directive to the European Court of Justice with interest. In the meantime, the United Kingdom will continue to argue for safety-based European Community regulation of food supplements. The UK Government's position continues to be that maximum limits should be set on the basis of safety and not unnecessarily limited by supposed nutritional need.

Allergies

Sue Doughty: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on his Department's strategy for diagnosis and management of allergies in the National Health Service; what guidance is issued to primary care staff on diagnosis and treatment options; what provision is made for access to allergy specialists; and what support and funding is provided for research into the (a) causes and (b) treatment of allergies. [154225]

Dr. Ladyman: It is the role of primary care trusts in partnership with local stakeholders to decide what services to provide for their populations, including those with allergies. They are best placed to understand local health care needs and commission services to meet them.

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) published their report, "Allergy—the unmet need: a blueprint for better patient care", on 25 June 2003. We welcome the RCP report and believe it is a useful contribution to the debate on how to improve National Health Service allergy services. The report noted that allergies including asthma, rhinitis, eczema, food allergy and

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drug allergy are becoming increasingly common. It calls for improved NHS allergy services across the board and offered useful models about how this could be achieved.

A range of research projects on the epidemiology of allergies have recently been completed or are ongoing. The International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) was formed in 1991. Phase One measured the prevalence of childhood asthma, hayfever and atopic eczema for international comparisons. Phase Two began in 1998 and involves more intensive studies in a smaller number of countries. The Department of Health funded the UK contribution to Phase Two.

The Food Standards Agency funds research on food allergy and intolerance, with particular emphasis on severe allergies, how they occur and what causes them. A large programme of research on food intolerance and allergy, costing around £1 million a year is ongoing. King's College London is leading a £2.1 million European Commission (EC) funded prospective study of the incidence and prognosis of allergy, allergic disease and low lung function in adults living in Europe. Also, The University of Manchester is leading a £1.2 million EC-funded investigation of the prevalence, pathogenesis, treatment and prevention of sun allergy across Europe. Sun-provoked skin reactions are one of the commonest forms of allergy.

Ambulance Service

Mr. Edwards: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what progress has been made in the procurement of a replacement radio system for the ambulance service; when he anticipates the contract will be awarded; and when he expects the new system to be in operation. [154346]

Ms Rosie Winterton: The current negotiations are continuing and it is expected that a decision to announce the designated supplier of the new digital network and infrastructure is imminent. A designated supplier for a second contract for the provision of the radio handsets, fixed mobiles, ambulance control room equipment and integration will be announced very soon after.

Following Capital Investment Branch (CIB), Her Majesties Treasury (HMT), Office of Government Commerce and appropriate board approvals, it is expected that the contract will be awarded mid to late May 2004.

Following the award of contract, a pilot implementation will be undertaken at an English trust, followed by a full roll out across Great Britain.

The timetable sets out an end date of late 2006–07 for all ambulance services in Great Britain to be fully operative.

Anti-ligature Policies

Mr. Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on anti-ligature policies for standard NHS environments. [154422]

Ms Rosie Winterton: Following the Chief Medical Officer's report 'An Organisation with a Memory', a Department of Health directive was issued requiring all

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local mental health services to remove all non-collapsible bed and shower curtain rails in all in-patient settings. This has now been achieved.

The National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness made a number of recommendations that included a requirement that all in-patient wards should remove or cover all likely ligature points. The Department of Health supports these recommendations and has published a toolkit to help local mental health services implement them.

Finally, the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA) plays a key role in bringing patient safety to a national level, enabling the entire National Health Service to learn from incidents and make itself safer.

Autism

Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what cross-departmental work is being carried out by his Department and the Department for Education and Skills in respect of those who have been diagnosed as autistic; and if he will make a statement. [153126]

Dr. Ladyman: The Department of Health, in association with the Department for Education and Skills, published good practice guidance on autistic spectrum disorders in July 2002. The guidance was primarily aimed at schools and local education authorities but was also relevant to health and social services providers.

The Government's new strategy for special educational needs (SEN) "Removing Barriers to Achievement", is jointly signed by Ministers from the Departments for Education and Skills (DfES), Health, and Work and Pensions. It sets out a strategy for improving SEN provision, including work focussed on autistic spectrum disorders. The strategy will complement relevant children's programmes, including the children's national service framework (NSF) and the autism exemplar under the NSF. The Department and the DfES will work closely on the development of the exemplar.

Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what his policy is on assisting those who have been diagnosed as autistic; and if he will make a statement. [153127]

Dr. Ladyman: The Government's policy is that appropriate services should be provided for children and adults with autism according to each individual's needs.

Most children with autism will need high quality support from health, education and social services. They should receive this through an integrated system. Our recently published Green Paper "Every Child Matters", sets out proposals to integrate children's services through the development of children's trusts and the appointment of local authority directors of children's services.

We are also developing the children's national service framework (NSF), which will set new national standards for the national health service and social services. Services for disabled children will be a key part of the NSF, which will include care pathways/exemplar

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diagrams illustrating optimum approaches to delivering services in a number of different areas. We have already announced that autism will be used as an exemplar.

Children with autistic spectrum disorders are also benefiting from the programmes we are introducing to improve family support services for disabled children. The Quality Protects programme to improve children's social services has made disabled children a priority area. From 2001–02 to 2003–04, £60 million from the children's services special grant has been earmarked for services for disabled children and their families—£15 million in 2001–02 and 2002–03 and £30 million this year. Quality Protects management action plans show that more family support services are being provided, particularly home based respite care and sitting services.

Our White Paper, "Valuing People", directly covers every adult with autism who also has a learning disability. Implementation guidance, issued in August 2001, makes clear that adults with Asperger's Syndrome or higher functioning autism are not precluded from using learning disability services, where appropriate, and may require an assessment of their social functioning and communication skills in order to establish their level of need. By bringing together a wide range of local statutory agencies, Valuing People gives us the scope to improve opportunities and services for people across the autistic spectrum.

People with autism are benefiting from funding of over £250,000, which the Department made through the Section 64 Scheme of Grants to Voluntary Organisations between 1999–2000 and 2002–03. We are currently devoting further funds over three years to the National Autistic Society project, "Independence and Autism: Good Practice for Service Providers". This will support the development of new services to enable adults with autism or Asperger's Syndrome to live independently.

People with autism will also gain, along with others, from the investment we are making to improve standards in health and social care services. In particular, they will benefit from the NHS Plan, the mental health NSF (which covers the mental health needs of adults with autism) and fair access to care services. We will continue to review what more needs to be done for all people affected by autistic spectrum disorders.

Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many people were diagnosed as being autistic in (a) 1990, (b) 2000 and (c) the latest year for which figures are available; and if he will make a statement. [153128]

Dr. Ladyman: Details of the number of people diagnosed with autism are not available. The Medical Research Council (MRC) published a comprehensive review of autism research in December 2001, which provides an authoritative overview of the current state of knowledge on the prevalence, incidence and causes of autism. The report was commissioned by the Department of Health. It is available on the MRC website at www.mrc.ac.uk/pdf-autism-report.pdf.

The MRC report notes that according to recent reviews, there appears fairly good agreement that autism spectrum disorders affect approximately 60, and

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more narrowly defined autism 10 to 30, per 10,000 children under eight. The prevalence of autism among adult populations is not known.

Bob Russell: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how much financial support he has given for research into autism in each of the last five years for which figures are available; and if he will make a statement. [153129]

Dr. Ladyman: The Medical Research Council (MRC), a non-departmental public body which receives its grant-in-aid from the Department of Trade and Industry via the Office of Science and Technology, is the main public sector body which funds research into autism. The MRC spend on autism since 1998 is shown in the table.

£ millions

Spend on autism
1998–991.04
1999–20001.11
2000–011.18
2001–021.26
2002–031.30

The MRC always welcomes high quality applications for support into any aspect of human health and these are judged in open competition with other demands on funding. Awards are made according to their scientific quality and importance to human health.

In February 2002, we allocated a further £2.5 million to the MRC to help it to take forward its programme of work on autism. Between December 2002 and July 2003, the MRC held a series of four seminars to encourage the development of good quality applications for autism research funding. Topics covered in the seminars were gut and the developing child; brain and mind (neuropsychology and neuroimaging); autism in populations and outcome measures for interventions in children and adults. On 11 July 2003 the MRC held the first of their annual forums for autism research, "Breaking barriers, building bridges", in conjunction with the National Autistic Society, to bring together ideas stimulated by the previous four seminars.

The MRC will be taking decisions on the allocation of research project funding for further autism studies in early 2004.


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