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General Practitioners

Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what the average waiting time to see a general practitioner was in each year since 1986. [26463]

Mr. Byrne: The requested data are not collected or held centrally. Since 2001, data have been collected each month from primary care trusts and general practitioners on the availability of access to a general practitioner. These data show whether access is or is not available in line with the NHS Plan target that patients should be able to be seen by a primary care doctor within 48 hours but do not provide information on actual waiting times. The data show that since December 2004, over 99 per cent. of patients are seeking a primary care doctor within this time scale.

Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps the Government are taking to increase the number of general practitioners in the NHS. [26464]

Mr. Byrne: There are more general practitioners (GPs), 32,418, in the national health service than ever before. Since 1997 the number of GPs increased by 4,372 (15.6 per cent.) and the number of GP registrars has increased by 1,138 (84.7 per cent.).

As part of the new foundation programme, the first stage of postgraduate medical training, more trainees will have a placement in a primary care setting—55 per cent. in 2006–07, rising to 90 per cent. in later years.

Gershon Review

Dr. Cable: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many full-time equivalent employee reductions the
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Department has made as a result of the Gershon review; what cost savings relating to IT projects were achieved; what value of efficiency savings (a) were achieved in 2004–05 and (b) are expected to be achieved in 2005–06; and if she will make a statement. [24329]

Mr. Byrne [holding answer 3 November 2005]: The Department's change programme commenced in March 2003, prior to the publication of the Gershon review. Our Gershon commitment however is based on delivery of this programme. We confirmed in our 2005 Departmental report that gross full time equivalent headcount for the core Department had reduced from 3,390 in March 2003 to 2,050 in March 2005. We will update progress against our Gershon commitment in our autumn performance report.

We have not as yet declared any achieved cost savings relating to information technology projects as Connecting for Health applications have only recently commenced rollout phase. Our calculation of efficiency gains recognises that benefits accrue from the integrated delivery of technology, process and people change. Future gains therefore will not wholly differentiate technology-only efficiency benefits. Our measurement methodology will be set out in an updated efficiency technical note, due to be published on the Department's website at the end of November.
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We have not yet declared efficiency gains for 2004–05. These gains and expected further progress in 2005–06 will be set out in our autumn performance report due to be presented to Parliament in December.

Health Service Reconfiguration

Steve Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if she will list each of the requests that she has received for contested health service reconfigurations to be referred to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel since the IRP was created; and whether the request (a) was accepted, (b) was registered and (c) is awaiting decision in each case. [27399]

Mr. Byrne [holding answer 11 November 2005]: As at 10 November 2005, there have been eight referrals to the Secretary of State which is shown in the table. The overview and scrutiny committee right of referral is to the Secretary of State who may choose to seek advice from the independent reconfiguration panel (IRP). Since its establishment, the IRP has provided formal advice to the Secretary of State on one case—in East Kent. Of the seven referrals subsequently received, three were determined by Secretary of State without recourse to the IRP, three are pending a decision, and in one case the proposals were withdrawn by the primary care trust.
Referrals to the Secretary of State seeking advice from the IRP

Location Referred byDate of referral Outcome
1East Kent (Margate/Canterbury/Ashford)South East Kent CHC Canterbury and Thanet CHCApril 2002Secretary of State's decision to refer to IRP
2Wiltshire (Kennet and North Wiltshire)Wiltshire county council HOSCOctober 2004Proposals withdrawn by PCT in favour of wide-ranging review of community services
3Fareham and Gosport (Hants)Hampshire county council HOSCJanuary 2005Secretary of State's decision to uphold NHS decision without referral to IRP
4South West London (Sutton/Epsom/
St. Helier)
London borough of Merton HOSCMarch 2005Secretary of State's decision pending
5Bristol (Southmead/Frenchay)South Gloucestershire HOSCJuly 2005Secretary of State's decision to uphold NHS decision without referral to IRP
6Wirral (Wirral and Wallasey)Wirral Metropolitan borough council HOSCJuly 2005Secretary of State's decision to uphold NHS decision without referral to IRP
7Lincolnshire (cross county)HOSC for LincolnshireJuly 2005Secretary of State's decision pending
8Surrey (Guildford and Waverley)Surrey county council HOSCOctober 2005Secretary of State's decision pending

Health Trust Guidance

Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what guidance she has issued to health trusts on the priority they should give to (a) reducing financial deficits and (b) meeting clinical targets. [17404]

Mr. Byrne: National health service organisations are required to deliver both their statutory financial duties and those national targets that apply to that organisation.

NHS trusts have a statutory duty to break even. This requires them to match income and expenditure over a three-year period, exceptionally this can be extended to a five-year period.

Primary care trusts have a statutory duty to live within the resources allocated to them. They are required to achieve financial balance each and every year.

National Standards, Local Action", published in July 2004 and available in the Library and on the Department's website at, sets out what is expected of national health service and social care organisations for the three financial years 2005–06 to 2007–08 in terms of national priorities and health care standards.

Hearing Aids

Anne Moffat: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many people in England have received digital hearing aids through the NHS in each year since 1997. [28840]

Mr. Byrne: This information requested is not held centrally. The modernising hearing aid services programme estimates that approximately 500,000 people have now been fitted with digital hearing aids.
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Hepatitis C

Mr. Lansley: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans she has to introduce opportunistic screening for hepatitis C at genito-urinary medicine clinics. [26002]

Caroline Flint: The Department published guidance for the national health service on hepatitis C testing in July 2004. Genito-urinary medicine clinics are one of the health care settings in which opportunistic testing for those at increased risk of hepatitis C takes place. The British Association of Sexual Health and HIV published guidance on the management of hepatitis A, B and C in September 2005. This includes advice on hepatitis C testing in genito-urinary medicine clinics, and is available on the Association's website at:

High Blood Pressure

Mr. Holloway: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps her Department is taking to educate the public about the dangers of high blood pressure. [28646]

Caroline Flint: It is essential that individuals across the population be made aware of the risks associated with high blood pressure and the importance of knowing their blood pressure numbers. For the last four years the Department has funded the Blood Pressure Association's (BPA) Know Your Numbers campaign. The national blood pressure testing week, which took place between 12 and 18 September this year, is the high point of the BPA's campaign and provides an opportunity for the public to attend a blood pressure testing station located in their local community. Individuals are also offered free information on prevention, management and treatment of the condition to prevent the onset of heart disease and stroke.

The most important factor in putting up blood pressure, alongside diet, physical inactivity and being overweight, is salt intake. In September 2004, the Food Standards Agency launched a high profile consumer awareness campaign on salt. The second phase of the campaign, focusing on highlighting the 6 grams daily intake target and encouraging people to read labels to become aware of where their salt intake is coming from, started in October this year.

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