The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gordon Brown): On 11 October I chaired the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) in Luxembourg. The Paymaster General, right hon. Dawn Primarolo MP, represented the UK.
The Presidency expressed the Council's sympathy, solidarity and support to all those affected by the terrible earthquake which hit south Asia earlier this month, and the willingness as a community and as national Governments to provide assistance as required to alleviate the consequences of this humanitarian disaster and assist reconstruction.
The Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) briefed the Council on progress in developing EU support for the economic regeneration of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in cooperation with other countries and institutions working in the region.
The Commission reported on progress towards the implementation of the June EU-US Summit Economic Declaration. The Presidency, supported by the forthcoming Austrian and Finnish Presidencies, concluded that there was broad support for closer EU-US economic cooperation and that ECOFIN would return to the issue ahead of the 2006 EU-US summit.
Council Conclusions were agreed on the Commission's Green Paper Financial Services Policy (200510). Member States reached consensus on the need for effective implementation and enforcement of current measures, the importance of recognising the global nature of financial markets, the need to embed better regulation principles into financial services policy moving forward, as well as the growing importance of non-legislative instruments, such as competition policy, in future policy-making.
The chairmen of the Committee of European Securities Regulators (CESR), the Committee of European Insurance and Occupational Pension Supervisors (CEIOPS) and the Committee of the European Banking Supervisors (CEBS), briefed the Council on the work they are undertaking to improve the quality of European financial legislation, and cooperation between supervisors, underlining their commitment to the better regulation agenda.
19 Oct 2005 : Column 56WS
I am today setting up a review aimed at helping the National Health Service plan and pay for specialised services which include some of the most expensive treatments and drugs provided in the NHS. Patients expect to experience equal access to specialised services in the NHS and it may be necessary to strengthen collective commissioning arrangements between primary care trusts.
The new taskforce, headed by Scotland's former Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir David Carter, will investigate how the NHS currently commissions specialised services and consider ways of tightening these commissioning arrangements so that there is greater consistency across the NHS. The review will also look at ways of ensuring primary care trusts work together to commission specialised services so that the financial risk is shared. It will consider whether the balance is right between PCT commissioning collaboration and a more national or regional commissioning approach. The review team will report to Ministers in Spring 2006.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Jane Kennedy): The Department has started a wide-ranging review of the regulatory framework for the health and social care sector. This review was announced by the Chancellor in the Budget Report in March 2005, as part of the Government's overall strategy to rationalise the number of public services inspectorates.
The review will be conducted by officials from the Department, with external scrutiny and challenge provided by a regulation review panel, chaired by Lord Currie of Marylebone, Dr Dieter Helm of New College Oxford, and Mr Robert Chilton, acting chair of the National Consumers Council.
(a) to define our objectives for regulation and inspection in health and social care, striking the right balance between the need to streamline regulation, while ensuring proper stewardship of public funds, and quality and safety in services for patients, users and the public;
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Ms Rosie Winterton): Today the Chief Medical Officer has launched a revised contingency plan for dealing with a possible influenza pandemic. While it is not possible, to predict with any degree of certainty when the next influenza pandemic may happen, this plan outlines our updated strategy for dealing with it when it does. This plan will help to ensure that we have a coherent and joined up response once a pandemic unfolds.
The United Kingdom has had a plan for dealing with a flu pandemic in place since 1997. This plan has been regularly updated to reflect changing circumstances, and has been supported by practical action with the commitment of just under £200 million for the procurement of a stockpile of antiviral drugs, which will be complete by September 2006. We are also working closely with manufacturers to ensure that the UK will be able to obtain a pandemic vaccine when one becomes available.
We are fortunate in having some of the best scientific and medical experts in the world leading our work on pandemic preparations, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has already identified the UK as one of the best prepared countries in the world. But we are not taking this for granted and have continued to work to ensure that our contingency planning is as up to date and comprehensive as possible.
The UK contingency plan has been revised on the basis of comments received from international experts and health professionals and to bring it into line with recent developments nationally and internationally, for example developments in mathematical modelling, and the revised WHO pandemic phases.
To support these changes, operational guidance has been published to help NHS planners in preparing for a pandemic. Clinical management guidelines are being developed with the Health Protection Agency and the British Thoracic Society, and Infection control guidelines are also being finalised.
19 Oct 2005 : Column 58WS
These latest revisions to the plan demonstrate that we are continuing to step up our preparations. While we cannot prevent a pandemic occurring, we are continuing to keep our contingency planning under review to consider what further measures should be taken in order to ensure that the country is as prepared as possible to meet it, when it does.