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Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): I thank Front Benchers for allowing me five minutes of their time to raise an important matter for many people in this countrythe decision made today by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence about which drugs will be allowed to be prescribed on the national health service for people suffering from Alzheimer's.
As we all know, in March this year it was decided that there might be a recommendation that Aricept, Reminyl and Exelon, which, in 2001, had been made available on the NHS for the treatment of Alzheimer's, should now be withdrawn. NICE might recommend today that those will not be available on the national health service to people who suffer from Alzheimer's. More than 8,000 carers, patients and professionals have written to NICE to oppose its draft recommendation, which was made in March.
At £2.50 a day, or £1,000 a year, the price is a small one for the NHS to pay to prevent some of the worst examples of behaviour by Alzheimer's sufferers, and to relieve some of the tension and problems experienced by carers. In my constituency, sadly, I have seen people who are younger than me develop Alzheimer's in their 50s. I have heard tragic tales of people who begin to lose their way and to lose their knowledge of who is in their family, and who eventually become completely confused about where they are. For that to happen at such an early stage is extremely distressing.
How will people who have been together for 30 yearsI can imagine what it is like, as I have been with my wife for more than 30 yearswho have been able, because of that small contribution from the NHS, to keep their loved ones at home where they are at least lucid sometimes and calm most of the time, make the decision, if they lose that drug, to look for long-term care for someone who is still young and seems fit but is completely and utterly confused? It is an absolute tragedy.
Can Members imagine what that is like at this time of the year? My constituent, whom I will not name, said to me last week that as Christmas approached he was genuinely living in fear of NICE taking this decision and the Scottish health service following it and stopping him getting Aricept for his wife. As a result, he might see her go through Christmas confused and in fear, with the prospect of his family and the structure of his life being destroyed because he can no longer look after his loved one. That would be the outcome of NICE's decision and of the Government's decision to give NICE's advice to health authorities to cease providing those drugs. It could result in a terrible tragedy.
As Christmas approaches, I ask the Minister to take on board the plea from the heart that has been issued by my constituents, the 8,000 carers and people working in the professions, and allow a small sum£2.50 a dayto be allocated to those who suffer from Alzheimer's, for their good and, indeed, for the sake of the good will of those in sickness and those who care for them, during this festive season.
Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con):
This is the first time I have taken part in a Christmas Adjournment debate, but I pleased to be able to respond to the varied and fascinating debate that has taken place today.
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The job of Back Benchers contributing to these debates is relatively simple. They are entitled to speak on any matter that they wish to raise. My job and that of the Deputy Leader of the House is somewhat more challenging: we must respond to the points made in what, in this occasion, has been a very full debate, ranging from Iraq to Devon and from road-coating product plants to wind farms.
The hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) opened the Back-Bench speeches by speaking on a matter that is of great concern to him and which he has been assiduous in raising in the House: the continued presence of coalition forces in Iraq. He made two points with which I agree. He spoke of the need to win the battle of hearts and minds. I too think that that is important, and I think that mistakes were made during the aftermath of the war which made it more difficult. He also welcomed the increasing further moves towards democracy. I echo that welcome, because I feel that we must continue to focus our efforts on establishing a stable democracy in Iraq. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and all Members will want to join me in wishing a very happy Christmas to our servicemen and women serving in Iraq and their families.
The hon. Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills) spoke of Swindon's needs, particularly in the context of tackling poverty. He spoke of the Government's success in improving the financial position of pensioners. I think that those who are struggling to cope with the complexities of the Government's means-tested benefits, and with ever-increasing council tax bills, will take a somewhat different view. My constituents are not struck by what he termed the "simplicity" of the tax credit system, but are appalled by its complexity, and suffer from the incompetences of the Revenue's administration of the system. That view was echoed by the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Mr. Reid), although I think that he was rather kind to the Child Support Agency in merely saying that it was in a state of crisis.
The hon. Gentleman also rightly raised the impact of post office closures. He referred to them in a rural context, but it is not just rural areas that suffer. Many post offices have closed in Maidenhead town, in my constituency. That has caused problems to elderly people in particular, because they have difficulties in gaining access to other post offices.
A number of Members spoke of the proposals to restructure police forces. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Ms Johnson) took a somewhat different view from many: she supported the restructuring of her own force in Humberside. My own view accords rather more with the views of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath), who ably described the danger that restructuring would reduces forces' ability to respond to local needs and the potential loss of community policing that would result. As my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) pointed out, we should ask at what cost the restructuring is taking place. We need more money to be spent on more police on our streets, not on new letterheads and new force headquarters.
I noted the reference by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome to the new Frome Victoria hospital. In my constituency, I am campaigning for a
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new east Berkshire acute hospital to be built closer to Maidenhead so that my constituents do not have to struggle to Wexham Park hospital in Slough. Like the hon. Gentleman, I hope that the time will come when I can report good news to the House.
Although this debate is rightly used by many Members to raise issues of particular concern in their constituencies, I was struck by the number who raised issues of wider concern relating to world matters. Tribute was paid by several Members to the work of the Make Poverty History campaign and I am happy to add my congratulations to the campaign on the important work that it has done.
My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire rightly linked the Government's failure to achieve reform of the common agricultural policy to the lack of greater progress at the World Trade Organisation talks in Hong Kong. As with the climate change talks in Montreal, I suggest that, far from proclaiming their success, the Government should be dissatisfied at the lack of progress made.
The hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen), among others, raised the issue of the tsunami. He spoke from personal experience and talked about the impact of the Foreign Office response and the concern felt by many families about the support that the Government had given at that time.
In respect of worldwide issues, my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) gave an impressive tour d'horizon of several relevant subjects, including our representations abroad. He referred to the devastating impact of AIDS on the lives of so many millions, particularly across Africa. One of the saddest aspects of that issue has been the unwillingness of the Government of South Africa to acknowledge the extent of the problem there, which means that many more people are suffering than would have been the case if the problem had been properly acknowledged.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley enjoined all hon. Members not to be backward about celebrating Christmas in the true Christmas spirit. I am sorry that I cannot join him in his carol singing later this week, but I should warn him, given my previous area of responsibility, that I hope that he has secured an entertainments licence under the Licensing Act 2003.
Mr. Heath: It is a great shame that the right hon. Lady could not share in our village carol service in Withan friary on Sunday evening. The Virgin Mary, who looked delightful, was unfortunately indisposed, so Joseph was left holding the babyboth figuratively and in reality. I wonder whether that is something that the right hon. Lady would commend.
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