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1 Dec 2005 : Column 710W—continued

Housing Benefit

Mr. Frank Field: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions when he expects to report on housing benefit reform and the effects of the local housing allowance pilots. [33770]

Mr. Plaskitt: I refer my right hon. Friend to the written answer I gave the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) on 24 November 2005, Official Report, column 2254W.


Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of the cost tobusiness of the decision to allow into the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) the schemes of companies which had experienced an insolvency event before the PPF was launched. [30645]

Mr. Timms: The indicative view from the PPF is that the impact on levies and thus the cost to business is minimal.

Janet Anderson: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions if he will bring forward further measures to restore pensions lost through scheme wind-ups prior to 5 April. [32516]

Mr. Timms: The Government have set up the Financial Assistance Scheme to help some people who have lost out on their defined benefit pension because their pension scheme is winding up underfunded and the employer is insolvent or no longer exists. It will apply to schemes which started to wind-up before 6 April 2005 when the Pension Protection Fund came in.

The scheme will be reviewed alongside other spending priorities in the forthcoming comprehensive spending review


Dr. Iddon: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions how many Remploy employees in management grades are disabled. [21713]

Mrs. McGuire: There are 220 people employed by Remploy in management grades that have declared themselves as disabled.


Retirement Age

Gregory Barker: To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions whether he plans to increase the compulsory minimum retirement age for members of stakeholder pension plans. [33572]

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Mr. Timms: The normal minimum age at which a member may draw benefits from a stakeholder pension plan will increase from 50 to 55 by 6 April 2010, in line with the new simplified tax rules for pension schemes that take effect from 6 April 2006.


Avian Influenza

Mr. Paterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what assessment she has made of which human population cohorts are most at risk from co-infection of the H5N1 and a human host adapted influenza virus; [24012]

(2) what steps she is taking to reduce the risk of co-infection by the H5N1 and a human host adapted influenza virus to those assessed as most at risk. [24016]

Caroline Flint: H5N1 is currently an avian influenza virus and mainly affects birds. There have been infrequent cases in some people who are closely exposed to infected poultry. As of 15 November 2005, there have been 125 cases of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza in people in South East Asia, 64 of whom have died. There is concern that the virus could evolve into a strain which readily infects people and is easily transmissible between people, resulting in a pandemic virus. This is why we are planning for a possible human flu pandemic.

People in close contact with infected poultry, or infected material from poultry, could be most at risk of co-infection with the H5N1 virus and a human influenza virus. This could include poultry farm workers, veterinarians and others directly involved in animal disease control.

In the event of an outbreak of H5N1 in United Kingdom poultry, those groups at high risk of exposure would be offered antiviral drugs to prevent the development of infection, and seasonal flu vaccination to prevent the risk of re-assortment with human flu virus.

Bed Occupancy (Dacorum)

Mike Penning: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what the average bed occupancy rate was at NHS units in Dacorum in each year since 1997. [29902]

Caroline Flint: The average bed occupancy rate at national health service units in Dacorum in each year since 1997 is shown in the table.
Occupancy rate, beds provided by West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust and Dacorum PCT, 1997–98 to 2004–05

Percentage occupancy

1.Beds provided by West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust and Dacorum PCT have been used in the table.
2.West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust was formed on 1April 2000 following the merger of St. Albans and Hemel Hempstead NHS Trust and Mount Vernon and Watford NHS Trust.
Department of Health form KH03

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Blood Transfusion Service

Mr. Amess: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what the total cost of the blood transfusion service in England has been in each of the last three years. [20168]

Caroline Flint: The National Blood Service 1 was responsible for the supply of blood in England and North Wales. The expenditure for the National Blood Service (NBS) for the last three years was:

1 From 1 October, the National Blood Service and UK Transplant were merged to form the new organisation NHS Blood and Transplant

Breast Cancer

Dr. Blackman-Woods: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what priority is being given by the Government to (a) the treatment, (b) research into and (c) the financing of measures concerned with inflammatory breast cancer. [15061]

Ms Rosie Winterton: The Department is taking action in several areas to improve the treatment of all breast cancers, including inflammatory breast cancer.

Five of the newer breast cancer drugs have already been appraised by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) for use in the national health service. It is estimated that around 7,500 women could benefit from these new drugs a year;

A number of other breast cancer drugs are currently being considered by NICE including hormonal therapies which are commonly used for inflammatory breast cancer;

Service guidance to all professionals on breast cancer was published by NICE in August 2002. The document aims to help shape and improve the delivery of healthcare for women with breast cancer;

NICE is also developing guidelines on the clinical management of breast cancer. This will help clinicians give the optimal care and treatment to breast cancer patients.

Cancer is a top Government priority. In the NHS cancer plan, published September 2000, the Department confirmed its commitment to increasing investment in
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cancer research. The Government's total expenditure on cancer research was estimated to be £190 million in 2000–01. By 2004–05, it will be spending an additional £20 million a year on the NHS infrastructure for cancer research.

We are already putting record amounts of new investment into the NHS—between 2003 and 2008 NHS expenditure in England will increase on average by 7.5per cent. each year. It is for primary care trusts (PCTs) to decide how best to spend these resources taking into account local circumstances.

PCTs have many competing priorities but cancer is a national and local priority. Every PCT will have a sizeable number of people in their area who will be diagnosed with the disease, live with the disease and who die from the disease each year. PCTs will need to ensure they allocate sufficient resource to meet their local contribution to tackling cancer care or other areas.

Mr. Wallace: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what steps she is taking to improve the accuracy of mammography screening; [28427]

(2) whether she plans to introduce a system which would allow for all mammography x-rays to be checked twice for signs of malignancy; [28428]

(3) what plans she has to increase the availability of mammography screening for younger women. [28429]

Ms Rosie Winterton: To improve the accuracy of mammography screening we have upgraded the national health service breast screening programme (NHSBSP) by offering two-view mammography, two x-rays of each breast, at all screening rounds. Over 95per cent. of breast screening units have now implemented two-views, resulting in a 31 per cent. increase in the number of cancers detected annually since April 2001, when roll out began.

The quality assurance process ensures that the high quality standards of the NHSBSP are not only maintained, but continue to rise year on year. As part of this continuous improvement to the service, the NHSBSP, with the Department and Cancer Research UK funding, is about to begin a major study looking at the use of computer aided reading of mammograms in addition to a human reader. This study is expected to report in two years time.

The Department is also funding, along with the Medical Research Council and Cancer Research UK, the UK Coordinating Committee on Cancer Research randomised controlled trial of the effect on breast cancer mortality of annual mammographic screening of women starting at age 40, the age trial. The main aim of the study is to evaluate the effect of annual mammographic screening of women starting at ages 40 to 41 on mortality from breast cancer, thus giving a definitive answer to the outstanding question of whether
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population screening below 50 is beneficial or not. As the trial is primarily looking at mortality benefits, full results are not expected before spring 2006.

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