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Aspartame

Mr. Lancaster: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what research her Department has (a) carried out and (b) commissioned to establish whether the artificial sweetener aspartame is carcinogenic. [52464]

Caroline Flint: The Government have commissioned several reviews of the safety and carcinogenicity of aspartame.

Aspartame was first reviewed in 1982 by the United Kingdom's committee on toxicity (COT), a committee of independent experts who advise the Government on the safety of food chemicals. New data on aspartame was reviewed by COT in 1992 and by the committee on the carcinogenicity (COC) in 1996. COT was satisfied that aspartame was acceptable for use in food and COC considered there was no link between brain tumours and aspartame.

At the request of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), in 2001, the European Commission's Scientific Committee on Food revisited its previous safety assessment of aspartame and concluded that there is no evidence to suggest a need to revise the outcome of their earlier risk assessment.

In response to new findings on the potential carcinogenicity of aspartame published by the Ramazzini Institute the FSA commissioned a review by COC. The Committee made initial observations on the
 
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data and will be undertaking a further review of more detailed data from the study in March 2006. The FSA will forward the COC advice to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), which is undertaking a full evaluation of the study in the context of previous safety data. EFSA hopes to complete its evaluation by May 2006.

Audiology Services

Peter Bottomley: To ask the Secretary of State for Health when she expects a patient referred to Worthing Hospital for an audiology test leading to a hearing aid to receive the aid within (a) 80, (b) 50, (c) 20 and (e) six weeks. [48203]

Caroline Flint: The information requested is not held centrally. However, I understand from the Surrey and Sussex Strategic Health Authority that they recognise that the waiting time for the assessment and fitting of digital hearing aids in the Worthing area is too long. The Worthing and Southlands Hospital National Health Service Trust continues to work with its primary care trust partners to develop options to bring this waiting time down.

BCG Vaccination

Mr. Redwood: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what estimate she has made of the savings made since the policy of free tuberculosis vaccinations administered in schools came to an end. [44116]

Caroline Flint: Funding for immunisation services including the Bacille Calmette Guerin (BCG) vaccination programme, form part of the annual allocation to primary care trusts (PCTs). PCTs are responsible for the management of those monies and running of immunisation programmes. As a result of the changes to the BCG vaccination programme, PCTs will re direct monies to reflect how the BCG programme will be implemented within their PCT.

Anne Main: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what guidance her Department issues to people who are not eligible for a free BCG vaccination concerning attendance at universities and travel (a) abroad and (b) to cities with a high incidence of tuberculosis. [47205]

Caroline Flint: There has never been a departmental recommendation that Bacille Calmette Guerin (BCG) should be available prior to attendance at a university. If a university requires this vaccination as a condition of entry, then it is the responsibility of the institution to provide it.

BCG vaccination prior to travel abroad is only recommended for individuals under the age of 35 years of age, who are not tuberculin positive if they will be living and working in a country with a high incidence of tuberculosis (TB) (40/100,000 or greater) for more than one month. In these circumstances, it should be the responsibility of individuals.
 
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Individuals over the age of 12 months living in, or moving into an area of the United Kingdom where there is an incidence of TB (40/100,000 or greater) is not on its own, an indication for BCG vaccination.

Dr. Murrison: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps she has taken to (a) inform parents of her Department's change in BCG vaccination for children policy and (b) assess the effectiveness of her information strategy. [54500]

Caroline Flint: The Chief Medical Officer announced changes to the Bacille Calmette Guerin (BCG) programme via a letter to the medical profession and primary care trusts on 6 July 2005. In support of these changes an updated leaflet, fact sheet, and poster were produced and sent directly to the groups listed above. All of these resources were aimed at raising awareness of tuberculosis (TB), and also informing health professionals and the general public alike, of the changes to BCG policy. All these resources were also made available to order free of charge via the Department's publications line.

The 6 July 2005 policy changes also meant that the tuberculin skin test was given in a different way, with the Mantoux test replacing the Heaf test. The Department produced a flip chart and DVD for training purposes. These were made available to order free of charge via the Department's publications line and sent directly to all TB clinics. Following these changes, the Department held a meeting of immunisation co-ordinators who are responsible for implementation of the BCG programme within their localities. The public information materials were shared with the co-ordinators and their views obtained.

The Department has also carried out public awareness testing on matters relating to TB and its control, and all information materials on TB and BCG are pre-tested with members of the public.

Mr. Francois: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how much her Department spent on BCG vaccinations for secondary school children in (a) 1997 and (b) 2005. [51659]

Caroline Flint [holding answer 14 February 2006]: The information as currently requested is not available.

Mr. Francois: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) how many school children received BCG vaccinations in schools in (a) 1997 and (b) 2005; [51660]

(2) what estimate she has made of the annual number of school children who will be given BCG vaccinations in schools under the revised vaccination system; how many were inoculated in the last year of the previous system; and if she will make a statement. [51661]

Caroline Flint [holding answer 14 February 2006]: The number of Bacille Calmette Guerin (BCG) immunisations carried out each year and by age group since 1994–95 is published in the statistical bulletin, NHS Immunisation Statistics, England: 2004–05", a copy of which is available in the Library.
 
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The change in policy announced by the chief medical officer on 6 July 2005, states that children who would otherwise have been offered BCG vaccination through the schools programme will now be screened, tested and vaccinated if appropriate. It is therefore the responsibility of the primary care trusts to arrange suitable screening opportunities outside of the school setting.

Blood Products

Jim Cousins: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what conclusions were reached in the review of departmental papers on self-sufficiency in blood products. [54569]

Caroline Flint: The report, Self Sufficiency in Blood Products in England and Wales'' was published on 27 February 2006. The report contains an executive summary, which includes the main conclusions of the review. Copies of the report are available in the Library and is available on the Department's website at:

Breast Cancer

Steve Webb: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment her Department has made of the possible effects of the (a) use of oral contraception and (b) alcohol consumption on the risks of breast cancer. [47989]

Ms Rosie Winterton [holding answer 2 February 2006]: The evidence for an increased risk of breast cancer in women who use oral contraceptives (OCs) has been under constant review by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, in conjunction with the independent expert advisory committee the Commission for Human Medicines.

In studies, a slightly higher number of cases of breast cancer were diagnosed in women who were OC users than in women of the same age who were not. The most important factor for this increased risk was found to be the age at which women stopped using oral contraceptives—the length of time for which women used OCs was less important. In women who stopped using oral contraceptives, their increased risk of having breast cancer diagnosed disappeared after 10 years.

Currently available evidence suggests that for every 10,000 women who use oral contraceptives for up to five years, the number of cases of breast cancer that would be diagnosed for up to 10 years after stopping OCs is as shown in the table.
Age at stopping OCsNumber of cases of breast cancer in 10,000 women who have never used OCsNumber of breast cancers in 10,000 women after five years OCs use and up to 10 years after stopping
25 years1617.5
30 years4448.7
35 years100111
40 years160181
45 years230262









 
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However, even at these higher ages the increase in risk, attributable to OCs, for individual women remains very low.

Like all effective medicines, OC is not without side effects and it is very important that both prescribers and women are fully aware of these potential side effects when considering which method of contraception is the most appropriate for individuals.

The Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment made a statement on alcohol consumption and risk of developing breast cancer in women in November 2004, which is available on the Department's website at:

The committee both evaluated all the available published research on the association between alcohol consumption and breast cancer and commissioned some specialist research to aid in reaching a conclusion. The committee concluded that it is prudent to assume that drinking alcoholic beverages may result in breast cancer in women".


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