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19 Apr 2006 : Column 737W—continued

Electricity Pylons

Willie Rennie: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment her Department has made of the possible health risks to (a) children, (b) the elderly and (c) those who have suffered cancer of residing near electricity pylons. [63405]

Caroline Flint: The Health Protection Agency's (HPA) radiation protection division has the responsibility for providing advice on exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF). As part of its policy of ongoing evaluation of scientific evidence it reviewed its advice in 2004 on limiting exposure to EMF including that from electric and magnetic fields from power lines (extremely low frequency or ELF). The currently adopted restrictions on exposure are designed to prevent adverse health effects for members of the public of all ages and of varying health status. The HPA's advice is available on its website at

At the request of the Department, the HPA's radiation protection division addressed the issues of uncertainty in the science and aspects of precaution. The HPA's advice noted that an association between prolonged exposures to power frequency fields and childhood leukaemia has been found, the scientific reasons for which are presently uncertain. In the light of these findings and the requirement for additional research the HPA proposed that

In response, the stakeholder advisory group on ELF EMF (SAGE) was set up to explore the implications for a precautionary approach and make practical recommendations for precautionary measures. SAGE is currently developing its advice and is expected to report later this year. Details of this process can be found on RK Partnership's website at:

Health Care (Patient Control)

Mr. Davey: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what research her Department has commissioned on the relationship between the amount of control the individual patient has over his or her healthcare and the efficacy of that care. [58923]

Jane Kennedy: The Department funds research to support policy and to provide the evidence needed to underpin quality improvement and service development in the national health service and through its service delivery and organisation and health technology assessment programmes, has funded a number of projects of relevance to the hon. Member's question. These include:

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Health Services (Gloucestershire)

Mr. Laurence Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if she will make a statement on the proposed reductions in health services in Gloucestershire. [63778]

Caroline Flint [holding answer 18 April 2006]: It is the responsibility of the primary care trusts (PCTs) in Gloucestershire to commission the necessary national health service for the treatment and care of their local populations. Local PCTs have the local knowledge and expertise to plan and review services as necessary, and it is not appropriate for my Department to intervene.

The NHS is in receipt of record increases in resources. Funding of the NHS has increased from £34.7 billion in 1997–98 to £69.7 billion in 2004–05. By 2007–08 spending on the NHS will have increased to over £97 billion. With this level of investment all NHS bodies should be able to plan and achieve financial balance every year. However, NHS organisations need to continue to look at the way they provide services to ensure that they are delivering the best possible value for money. In some areas, they will need to make tough decisions to ensure funding is used in the best possible way.

Hospitals (Targets)

Dr. Kumar: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps she is taking to help hospitals failing to meet the Government's targets for (a) cancer, (b) MRSA infections and (c) waiting times. [32767]

Jane Kennedy: The NHS Cancer Plan sets out the Government's plans to reduce waiting times for diagnosis and treatment. A target of a maximum two-month wait from urgent general practitioner referral to first treatment for all cancer patients was put into place at the end of December 2005 and should be met for all cancer patients treated from 1 January 2006.

The quarter's data, for the period January to March 2006, will be used to assess performance against this target and will be available in June 2006. The 62-day target is challenging but has been achieved for breast cancer and for other cancers in other parts of the country. The national health service is working hard to ensure that this target will shortly be met for all cancer patients.

The national cancer waits project team are working with those trusts and health authorities who are finding it challenging to understand the pathways their patients experience, and who need to improve their services to deliver these targets. This work will continue until we are sure that the changes they are making are delivering, and are sustainable.
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We have also made guidance available to cancer networks, trusts and clinical teams on the 10 "High Impact Changes" that will most help them to deliver cancer waiting times and improve the patients' experience and we are sharing examples of best practice.

We have set up a methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) improvement programme, with specialist teams providing tailored support for trusts that have significant challenge in meeting their target and are monitoring the trusts' performance. Work has begun with three trusts that were first to volunteer to pilot the support programme; Sandwell and West Birmingham, Northumbria, and Aintree NHS Trusts. These teams, which comprise a programme manager, analyst and specialists in infection control, will move on to support up to 17 further trusts during 2006–07. Selection will depend on progress towards the MRSA target and other factors. I will announce the additional trusts to join the programme at stages, during 2006.

The NHS now has an operating standard of six months for inpatient treatment. At the end of February 2006, less than 100 NHS patients were waiting more than six months for treatment. The Healthcare Commission is responsible for assessing NHS organisations against these standards annually and the Department will continue to scrutinise performance on waiting times, taking action through strategic health authorities if issues arise in relation to waiting times for patients.

Malignant Disease

Dr. Murrison: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment she has made of the contribution of (a) environmental factors and (b) longevity to the incidence of malignant disease; and if she will make a statement. [62162]

Caroline Flint: There are many different types of cancer, the causes of which are multifactorial rather than there being a single cause for any particular type of cancer, and this should be recognised. It is known that lifestyle factors such as smoking, consumption of alcoholic beverages, physical activity/obesity, and also occupational exposure to certain chemicals in the past, especially asbestos, have a major influence on cancer incidence. It is very difficult to estimate the burden due to environmental factors but some of the available data is summarised as follows.

Exposure to ionizing radiation is known to produce leukaemia and other cancers, although there is little direct data available on the burden of disease from this cause. Exposure to radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, is a cause of lung cancer and there is a markedly increased risk in smokers. It has been estimated that about two per cent. of cancer deaths in Europe may be due to radon.

Exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight increases the risk of skin cancer. Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the United Kingdom and the incidence of the disease is rising rapidly. However, up to 80 per cent. of cases could be avoided.
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There is little convincing evidence to indicate that environmental exposure to chemicals in the UK causes cancer. However, exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (passive smoking) is known to be associated with a 10 to 30 per cent. increase in lung cancer.

Additionally, dietary factors are estimated to account for approximately 30 per cent. of cancers in industrialised countries—making diet only second to tobacco as a preventable cause of cancer. In particular, obesity is associated with an increase in risk of some cancers such as colorectal and breast cancers while increasing the intake of fruit and vegetables and physical activity is associated with decreased risk.

Cancer is predominantly a disease of the elderly, with the incidence of the disease increasing markedly with age. Longevity of an individual is therefore associated with an increased risk of developing cancer, and the aging of the population is associated with an increasing number of cancer cases overall.

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