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Margaret Hodge [holding answer 20 June 2005]: We are reforming the benefit system to encourage and promote work for those who are able to work and security for those for whom work is not an option. For people with adverse health conditions and disabilities, work is a real option if they are offered appropriate support in a timely way. Evidence shows the longer people remain on benefit the less likely they are to make the transition back to work.
Early evidence from the innovative Pathways to Work approach is very positive. Around 20 per cent. of all those attending work-focused interviews (WFIs) take up one of the forms of back-to-work help available in Pathways areas. This is nearly six times higher than the level accessing back to work help elsewhere. It compares to around 4 per cent. in Jobcentre Plus pathfinder districts and around 2 per cent. nationally. By the end of March 2005, around 13,400 people have been helped back to work in the Pathways areas.
Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of the number of job vacancies that remained unfilled because of skills shortages in each year between 200102 and 200304. 
No estimate is made of the total number of skill shortage vacancies over the period of a whole year but estimates are made of the level of such vacancies at a particular point in a year. My Department estimated that there were 159,000 vacancies that remained unfilled because of skills shortages at the time of the survey in 2001 and 135,000 in 2003. No estimate was made in 2002.
Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if she will make a statement on the public health implications arising from the presence of acrylamide in foodstuffs, with particular reference to potato crisps. 
[holding answer 27 June 2005]: Acrylamide occurs naturally in a wide range of home-cooked and processed food including potato crisps. It has been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Research into the effects on humans is on-going. Whilst encouraging initiatives to reduce acrylamide levels in food, the Food Standards Agency continues to recommend that people should eat a balanced healthy diet, including plenty of fruit and vegetables.
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However, the Department is concerned about national health service patients affected by adverse events and that is why it established the National Patient Safety Agency in July 2001 and asked it to set up a national reporting and learning system for patient safety incidents. This system is now in place across the NHS and will in time enable us to understand the nature and extent of patient safety incidents and take further action to prevent or minimise their reoccurrence.
Mr. Lancaster: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment she has made of the availability of drugs for patients with moderately severe to severe Alzheimer's disease in Milton Keynes. 
Caroline Flint: The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is currently reviewing its 2001 appraisal of Alzheimer's drugs. Until NICE completes this review and issues new guidance, the 2001 guidance remains extant and those benefiting from the drugs in question will continue to do so.
NICE is also producing a comprehensive guideline on the treatment and care of those with dementia. This will take account of the appraisals being done on drug treatments for dementia. A draft of the guideline will be consulted on in 2006.
The Milton Keynes primary care trust (PCT) carries out assessments for the use of Alzheimer's drugs using the NICE guidelines and prescribes according to them. The PCT will consider future practice when the NICE consultation has concluded and recommendations are made.
Lynne Featherstone: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what the expenditure on drugs available on the NHS for Alzheimer's disease was in Hornsey and Wood Green in the latest year for which figures are available; how many Alzheimer's disease patients are being treated by primary care trusts in Hornsey and Wood Green; how much was spent by the NHS on drug treatments for advanced Alzheimer's disease patients in Hornsey and Wood Green in the latest year for which figures are available; and what assessment she has made of the availability of drugs for patients with moderately severe to severe Alzheimer's disease in Hornsey and Wood Green. 
Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what account was taken of (a) the impact on tri-service arrangements, (b) rural issues and (c) the future of patient transport in the report on the possible reconfiguration of the ambulance trusts for Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire; what (i) patient and (ii)public involvement there were in the preparation of the report; and if she will make a statement. 
Caroline Flint: The review of ambulance services that have taken place across the Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire Strategic Health Authority (SHA) area, is centred around the ambulance service's main role of emergency care and its management structure.
The steering group overseeing the review has been made up of all key stakeholders, not members of the public as this is a management report. The SHA is undertaking a period of communication with all key stakeholders, including staff and patients, over the summer period. It will take on board the views of people across the Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire SHA area. Changes to management and organisational structure do not require formal consultation as part of Section 11 of the Health and Social Care Act 2001. However, a discussion is planned to take place with national health service staff, the boards of all organisations involved and key stakeholders on the preferred option. A draft discussion document will be presented to the Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire SHA board for approval on 7 July 2005. A special board meeting is planned for 20 October 2005 to consider the results.
Malcolm Bruce: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps she is taking to reduce the number of people waiting (a) to be assessed for their first NHS hearing aid and (b) to switch from analogue to digital aids. 
Mr. Byrne: Through the modernising hearing aids (MHAS) programme, which was completed in March 2005, the Department has taken several steps to help the national health service increase the capacity of the hearing aid services to reduce waiting lists for assessment and provision of digital hearing aids. These include:
Setting up pilot sites for Hearing Direct". These offer follow-up care and advice for selected hearing aid users and reduces the patient journey time. Research suggests it may be suitable for one third of all NHS hearing aid patients.
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