Memorandum submitted by Which? (H&SC 24)

Re: Follow up to our oral evidence session

At the oral evidence session to the Health and Social Care Public Bill Committee on 8 January, Which? was asked for its views on Part 4 of the Bill, Health in Pregnancy Grant. In particular the Committee asked if we had any views as how we think consumers will spend this grant, in particular if we had a view as to whether the consumer will spend the payment on appropriate nutritional food, as intended and what sort of evidence would we look for to determine whether it had been a success or not.

The reason for our hesitation in responding was that we had not submitted any written evidence to the Committee on this issue, and that we do not have any consumer research specifically into this matter. Which? comments on public policy on the basis of its research and its feedback from its members and consumers in general. However I gave an assurance to the Committee that I would look into this matter, to ascertain if any we had carried out any research into the issue, or if we have a view about the principle.

As we said in our oral evidence we welcome the Prime Minister's commitment in his speech about the NHS (7 January) of the need to focus on prevention as well as cure, and we believe that good nutrition is an important part of that preventative approach. Our research shows, as we pointed out to the Committee, that food and nutrition is of such importance to patients and service users that it is a matter that should be given special attention by the Care Quality Commission. We would support any amendment to the Bill which addressed this.

In relation to the Health in Pregnancy Grant, Which? would like to see more details of how it is going to be implemented in order to achieve its desired outcomes. We believe that the grant should not be seen in isolation of other measures to improve the quality of people's diets.

It is essential that the Government steps up its efforts in order to make it easier for consumers to more generally make healthier food choices given the key role that diet has in maintaining health and preventing chronic disease. Our own research has focused on looking at the barriers to healthy eating - including the way that foods are produced, labelled, marketed and the choices available in institutions including hospitals and schools. While we have not looked specifically at the grant, we believe that greater Government efforts in these key areas is ultimately going to be the real driver for change across the board, including the quality of diets before, during and after pregnancy.

Once again we would like to thank the Committee for inviting us to give oral evidence. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions about our evidence, both written and oral.

I would be grateful if you could make a copy of this letter available to all members of the Committee.

January 2008