Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): The Secretary of State says that lessons have to be learned for next year. What lessons has she learned, given that she does not seem to be taking any responsibility for the crisis that we are facing? Steve Flynn of Mellor in my constituency contacted me today. He is an asthma sufferer who was told that he could not get the flu jab this week. He said, "I'll ring back next week", and was told, "Yes, give us a try." I then phoned both my Clitheroe practices, which expect it to run out of the vaccine at the end of the week. Will the Secretary of State say how long the 400,000 doses that she has in the current contingency stock are likely to last, and will she ensure that all practices, in rural as well as urban areas, get access to it?

Ms Hewitt: Some 110,000 doses from the contingency stock that the Department holds have already been
22 Nov 2005 : Column 1381
delivered; 200,000 doses have been allocated to orders and will shortly be distributed; 40,000 doses are currently available for order; and a further 50,000 will be delivered to our distributors in the week beginning 5 December. As I said earlier, 10,000 doses are being reserved for poultry workers. In other words, a total of 80,000 doses will still be available for order. We will distribute them in the order that GPs place their orders. Whether GPs are rural or urban, the doses will be distributed on the basis of first come, first served.

My colleagues in the Department and I take extremely seriously our responsibility for monitoring exactly what is happening, ensuring that we get our contingency stock to GPs, who, for whatever reason, have run out of stocks, and for supplementing our stocks and getting them to GPs who continue to need them as quickly as possible.

Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will recall the letter that she wrote to all hon. Members asking them to launch a campaign in their constituencies to get elderly people to take up their flu vaccine. That happened in Scotland as well as in England. Will she therefore look seriously at getting the figures correct? There are either 11 million people in England and 14 million throughout the United Kingdom or there are simply 11 million people who need the vaccine. We need to know whether the supply of 14 million doses to which she referred is available throughout the UK and whether it is required by 14 million people.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will analyse where the vaccines went from the manufacturers' point of view. I am worried about people who pay for their vaccines and never claim anything from the NHS—she never knows whether fairly well, economically active people take the vaccines from those who require them and are at risk. I should like her to check with the manufacturers how many doses were supplied to GPs and therefore how many went to people who did not require them.

Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend raises important points. We need to get much more information than we currently have by the end of the winter. As I said earlier, the estimated production total from all the UK vaccine manufacturers is 14 million doses—around 1 million more than the previous year and well over double the figure some eight years ago.

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): May I tell the Secretary of State that the excellent GPs in my constituency will have heard with dismay her blaming them for the incompetence of her Department? When can she guarantee that the rationing will stop—by January, February or at the end of the winter, when our people have already suffered?

Ms Hewitt: This is not a question of blaming the GPs or anybody else. Since winter flu vaccination started, it has been the responsibility of individual GPs to order
22 Nov 2005 : Column 1382
what they believe they need for their practices, taking into account the Department's advice on the risk groups for whom immunisation is a priority. As I have said several times, the number of doses—14 million—available this year is significantly higher than in previous years and should have been more than adequate for not only 100 per cent. take-up in the at-risk groups, which we have never achieved, but for others, including health care workers, for whom immunisation is often desirable.

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): The last time the Secretary of State spoke on the issue, I asked her whether there was a need for a Government information campaign to deal with public confusion about the differences between a seasonal flu jab, a pandemic and avian flu. In her reply, she said that the Government's information campaign on seasonal flu had already been completed. Who is therefore to blame for those non-vulnerable and ineligible groups seeking the flu jab—the Government for not informing the public properly, the media for confusing the message that the Government needed to convey or the public for not understanding the Government's message?

Ms Hewitt: In line with contingency plans and World Health Organisation guidance, we have published a great deal of material, all of which was well tested on the public to ensure that it is as clear as possible. We have made that available to GPs and on a variety of websites. We do our best to brief the media on the difference between bird flu, which does not exist in Britain and poses a very small risk to human health in Europe generally, a possible pandemic flu of a currently unknown strain, and winter flu, with which we have been dealing in the usual way. We have done our best to communicate that information as clearly as possible.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): The Secretary of State said that last year one in four of the elderly at risk did not manage to get vaccinated. It is reasonable to infer that those people are more likely to be infirm and housebound, and therefore less able to get to their GP's surgery for their vaccination. Does the Secretary of State want GPs to carry out domiciliary visits in order to reach the elderly infirm, of whom there are increasing numbers, at home?

Ms Hewitt: The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. Because we give priority to the elderly and other clinically at-risk groups, and because GP practices are paid specifically for vaccinating the people in those groups, there are already quite a lot of programmes of that sort. District nurses, for instance, go to old people's residential homes, or to very frail elderly people who might well be housebound, to offer them the flu vaccine. However, there has never been a 100 per cent. uptake and GPs tend to base their orders for the vaccine on what they used the previous year, as they do not want to be left with unused stock. The GPs and the Government do everything possible to ensure that vulnerable elderly people get the protection that they need and deserve.
22 Nov 2005 : Column 1381

22 Nov 2005 : Column 1383

Points of Order

4.16 pm

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Government made major announcements today on the reorganisation of local government in Northern Ireland. They also announced the implications of that reorganisation on the education, health and social services sectors. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has referred to the proposed changes as "major" and "substantial", yet he has chosen to make the announcements in written form, rather than by coming here to announce the proposals on the Floor of the House of Commons.

You will be aware, Mr. Speaker, of the large number of right hon. and hon. Members who take a close interest in the affairs of Northern Ireland. Given that the proposals in the written statements are so fundamental and far-reaching, would it not have been more appropriate for the Secretary of State to have made a statement here in the Chamber of the House of Commons, where all of us who take an interest in the affairs of the Province would have the opportunity to question him and to contribute to what is a very important debate?

Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. The announcement that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made today details some of the most radical changes in the way in which Northern Ireland is to be administered. The statements cover not only local government but health, social services and education, and the total number of public bodies involved in those sectors is to be reduced from 67 to 20. That will have an impact on hundreds, if not thousands, of employees. Surely, rather than announcing such important changes at a press conference in Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State should have come to this Chamber to allow the Members of Parliament elected by the people of Northern Ireland and other right hon. and hon. Members to ask him questions about the changes. Mr. Speaker, will you invite the Secretary of State to come immediately to the House to make his statement here?

Next Section IndexHome Page