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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Miss Melanie Johnson): We believe in putting patients first, and, in accordance with that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has today published a consultation document on proposals for implementing a number of changes to the law in the UK designed to strengthen regulation. Copies have been placed in the Libraries.
Last Thursday, the head of drug safety in the United States said that Vioxx was the single greatest drug safety catastrophe in the history of the world, afflicting up to 140,000 Americans with strokes or heart attacks. In this country, we have 4.5 million prescriptions for COX-2 inhibitors, yet our own defective yellow card system failed to find a significant adverse reaction here. Is it not time that we banned the prescription of all COX-2 inhibitors and had a thorough safety appraisal?
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Miss Johnson: As my hon. Friend is aware, the changes to UK legislation that we have put in place, those that we have proposed and the ones that I have just announced will further strengthen drug safety monitoring, by requiring risk management plans at the time of licensing new medicines, and by reinforcing the obligations on the industry to keep regulators informed of any issue that might impact on the safety of marketed medicine. We have reviewed the legislation. The National Audit Office has given the MHRA a clean bill of health, and we are taking all the steps that I have outlined and others to improve transparency and protection for patients.
Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): The Minister conspicuously failed to mention the traditional herbal medicines directive or the vitamin supplements directive, and the concern that the so-called positive lists and the vast cost to manufacturers of producing those lists will mean that many supplements are taken off our shelves. The Government are directly responsible for that.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Ms Rosie Winterton): The high occupancy rate at Eastbourne district general hospital has been greatly exacerbated by the level of delayed discharges locally. The primary care trust and social services department met recently to discuss what action the social services department could take to ease the problem.
Norman Baker: I am grateful to the Minister, who recognises that the high level of occupancy is causing major problems for my constituents, including the threatened closure, temporary or otherwise, of the accident and emergency department. That is unacceptable. Is the hon. Lady aware that East Sussex county council, which is controlled by the Conservatives, has adopted a deliberate policy of keeping people in hospital, blocking beds and causing massive bills for council tax payers and money to be thrown away on fines?
I am very aware of the problems created by the Conservative-controlled council. Its behaviour is unacceptable. That is why a meeting was held recently between the PCT and the council to highlight the problems caused for patients who were being delayed in hospital as a result of their actions. I hope that it has learned lessons from that and put in place proper procedures to deal with people in the area.
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Dr. Desmond Turner (Brighton, Kemptown) (Lab): The acute trusts in Brighton are also affected by bed blocking, attributable to East Sussex county council. I, too, have been horrified to learn that that council has adopted a deliberate policy of delaying discharges. Despite being fined £700 per week per patient, the council sees it as a way of saving money. Its assistant director told me that the blame rested with the health economy for not controlling emergency admissions, and it was no good clearing beds because the hospitals would
Ms Winterton: My hon. Friend is pointing out that a clear pattern of behaviour is being adopted by Conservative-controlled councils to prevent people from being discharged from hospital, because those councils think it is cheaper for them to keep people in hospital. That is unacceptable. I hope the electorate will take the opportunity at any forthcoming general election to make it clear that they do not accept that that is the way to behave.
Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne) (Con): Returning to Eastbourne, if I may, on any view my local health economy will end the current financial year with a substantial deficit. Given the massive pressures on my local hospital, which we have heard about, the cancelled operations and the warning from the trust board that the accident and emergency department might have to close for some periods, can the Minister assure me and my constituents that no one is putting any pressure on the trust to reduce the deficit at this very difficult time?
Ms Winterton: The hon. Gentleman will recall that we met to discuss the issue, and I was able to reassure him that the accident and emergency department would certainly not be closing. He accepted the point that I made to him at the time, when I suggested that he might like to speak to colleagues on the council about their policy and about ensuring that they put in place proper procedures for dealing with people. As for dealing with the deficit, it is important that local agencies work closely together. To be frank, the council needs to take note of that and work closely with the PCT.
Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): Whatever the challenges facing East Sussex county council, it is failing to comply with its statutory obligations to move people from hospital. Will my hon. Friend give health authorities the authority to make placements in order to empty beds and to send the bill to the council?
I understand my hon. Friend's frustration with the council's actions, although the remedy he proposes is drastic. We will have to keep the matter under review if councils insist on behaving in a fashion that is detrimental to patients in their area and to his constituents and others.
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Miss Melanie Johnson): The UK National Screening Committee, which advises the Government on all aspects of screening, does not recommend population screening for abnormal heart conditions, as current evidence does not support this.
Although I welcome the fact that the condition is included in the national service framework for coronary heart disease, is the Minister aware that sudden cardiac death kills eight fit young people under 35 each week in this country, and that the charity CRYCardiac Risk in the Youngwhich was set up 10 years ago, has introduced four screening centres and
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donated more than £400,000-worth of cardiac equipment to GP surgeries and hospitals? Why will the Government not recognise the condition and set up a national screening programme?
Miss Johnson: I have already answered that question. The UK National Screening Committee does not recommend that course of action, and we take expert advice. The hon. Lady is right to say that there is a new chapter in the national service framework on arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death, which was published only on 4 March. Testing for certain heart problems is offered, where appropriate, to close relatives of those who have died suddenly. I appreciate the numbers involvedI am well aware of the information campaigns. Under the new chapter, it is a marker of good practice that any young person who is experiencing symptoms suggesting an abnormal heart condition is referred to a paediatric cardiologist and given treatment accordingly.
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