1 Dec 2005 : Column 35WS

Written Ministerial Statements

Thursday 1 December 2005


Avian Influenza

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): I informed the House by written ministerial statement on 15 November, Official Report, column 48WS of the publication of the epidemiological report into the incident of avian influenza in a quarantine premises in Essex. The information previously available to us suggested that no consignments of birds had occupied the quarantine premises since March. It has now been established that a further set of records had been misfiled. Though this does not materially alter the position as previously reported to the House, we have now been informed that the quarantine premises in question accommodated a consignment of birds from 15 July to 18 August this year.

The consignment is documented as comprising approximately 2,000 birds from Tanzania. In accordance with normal procedures the records show that the birds were held for the quarantine period. In addition the documentation shows that there was mortality of approximately 10 per cent. during quarantine and post mortem samples from some of the dead birds were tested at the Veterinary Laboratories Agency. Samples taken from five of the dead birds and the sentinel chickens were negative for both Avian Influenza and notifiable Newcastle Disease. The samples from the dead birds were positive for paramyxovirus two which is not a notifiable disease.

There have been no reported cases of avian influenza in Tanzania.

We have brought the new information to the attention of our National Emergency Epidemiological Group. The group has concluded that there is no reason to alter the earlier conclusion drawn from its report that the likeliest source of the infection detected in October was the mesias documented as being imported from Taiwan. The epidemiological report will be updated to include the new information.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Margaret Beckett): In my oral statement to the House on 26 October, Official Report, column 308, I referred to the work my Department is carrying out jointly with ornithologists to monitor wild birds for avian influenza in the UK. The results of this surveillance will be of interest, to varying degrees, to the House and general public. My Department has therefore established mechanisms for the reporting of the surveys findings according to the level of significance as follows.

We expect that a number of samples taken over the coming months will demonstrate the presence of low pathogenic non H5 or H7 avian influenza viruses. These
1 Dec 2005 : Column 36WS
have little significance in the epidemiology of avian influenza disease in domestic poultry. When these low pathogenic Al virus types (which are not H5 or H7) are isolated, they will be reported via the DEFRA website as will negative results: www.defra.gov.uk

In the event that low pathogenic avian influenza viruses of type H5 or H7 are isolated, my Department will ensure that Health colleagues are informed as early as possible and prepare a briefing document which gives a clear explanation of the findings. If appropriate, a press briefing or conference will be held jointly with Health colleagues which will seek to cover as many issues as possible. Information will be posted on the DEFRA website and stakeholders will be updated.

Should a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus of any type be isolated Health colleagues will be informed and an announcement to both Houses will be made. My Department will ensure the thorough communication of the facts to the public and arrange early stakeholder meetings to ensure that key messages are understood. Communications will take place regularly as the disease strain is identified and investigations reveal more information.


Strategic Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts

The Secretary of State for Health (Ms Patricia Hewitt): In my statement of 18 October, Official Report, columns 49–50WS, I explained the need to streamline strategic health authorities (SHAs) and strengthen primary care trusts (PCTs)—all in the cause of improving services to patients. PCTs need to be able to design, plan and develop better services for all patients in their communities, to work more closely with local government, and more effectively to hold hospitals and general practitioners to account.

In my statement, I stated that SHAs had been invited to submit proposals to the Department of Health. I also explained that an external panel had been established to advise Ministers on whether the proposals for reconfiguration submitted by SHAs had adequately engaged local stakeholders and met the criteria set out in "Commissioning a Patient-Led NHS", published on 28 July.

Following consideration by the external panel and Ministers, I have agreed that all proposals for the reconfiguration of SHAs are fit to go forward for consultation on 14 December. Proposals for PCT configurations will also go forward for consultation on 14 December. The objective has been to ensure that the consultation on PCTs covers the broadest and most appropriate range of options.

John Bacon, Group Director of Health and Social Care Services Delivery in the Department of Health, has written to chief executives of SHAs to outline the proposals on which their organisations can consult. A summary of the proposals has been placed in the Library.

My noble Friend Lord Warner, the Minister of State for NHS Delivery, has written to hon. Members with constituencies in England to inform them of proposals for SHAs and PCTs in their constituencies.
1 Dec 2005 : Column 37WS

All proposals will be subject to a fourteen week local consultation and I will ensure that Parliament is informed when the consultation process begins.

No decisions will be taken regarding the reconfiguration of SHAs or PCTs until the results of the local consultations have been considered and any recommendations reviewed.

NHS Finance Data

The Secretary of State for Health (Ms Patricia Hewitt): I am publishing today, for the first time, in-year financial forecasts for each National Health Service (NHS) trust, primary care trust (PCT) and strategic health authority (SHA). These figures—which, of course, have not been audited—show that half way through the financial year NHS bodies are forecasting a net deficit by year-end of around £620 million. These forecasts have been placed in the Library.

A majority of NHS organisation are successfully managing their finances as well as cutting waiting times and generally improving services. Furthermore, NHS bodies typically take a prudent approach to forecasting by including a number of risks that they effectively manage by the end of the year. At this stage last year, the equivalent forecast figure was a deficit of £499 million; however, the audited 2004–05 position shows an end year deficit of £219 million. We therefore expect—and indeed intend to ensure—that the position at the end of this year will be significantly better than these mid-year forecasts. To keep these figures in perspective: the forecast deficit amounts to less than 1 per cent. of the funding available to the NHS, and two thirds of the gross deficit is due to thirty-seven (or 7 per cent.) of organisations.

The decision to publish these unaudited financial forecasts is a major step in increasing transparency. I have made the decision to publish the data because I want to make it clear that inefficiency and poor financial management are not acceptable.

I am also announcing today a further important measure to address the problems in a minority of NHS organisations. Turnaround teams of financial and management experts are being sent to support the strategic health authorities, NHS hospital trusts and PCTs that have the biggest delivery challenges. These teams will be experienced in resolving financial problems and managing NHS organisations. They will focus on ensuring the organisations deliver the efficiency and quality improvements needed to achieve both financial balance and better care for patients.


Parades Commission

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Peter Hain): I am pleased to announce today the appointment of Roger Poole as the new Chairman of the Parades Commission for Northern Ireland. I am also appointing six new Commissioners—David Burrows, Dr. Joseph Hendron, Donald MacKay, Anne Monaghan, Vilma Patterson, and Alison Scott-McKinley.
1 Dec 2005 : Column 38WS

The appointments follow an open recruitment process based on merit. The new Chairman and six new members will take up their posts on 1 January 2006.

These appointments bring a completely new dynamic to the Parades Commission. The membership represents the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland. They come from a variety of backgrounds, with a broad skills mix and, for the first time, a gender balance.

I am particularly pleased that two people with personal experience and understanding of the Orange Order and the cultural importance of parades have been appointed to the Commission.

I am appointing this Commission with a mandate to work itself out of a job by helping to create an environment in which accommodations on parades can be made between the two communities without the need for formal determinations.

I am confident that Roger's down to earth approach and willingness to engage with people will help move parades towards a new era and that he will be ably supported by the rest of the Commission.

The vast majority of parades pass off peacefully but there remains about half a dozen which are highly controversial. The violence that we saw at Whiterock in September cost millions of pounds of taxpayers money but had an even greater cost in terms of community relations.

Northern Ireland will not be able to move into a truly stable and peaceful future whilst these issues remain unresolved.

Next Section Index Home Page