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15 Dec 2009 : Column 228WH—continued

We also inherited a massive capital investment backlog for science research facilities. We therefore created an unprecedented science and research investment fund, which provided £2 billion to help universities to make good the capital shortfall that they had experienced and to create science facilities of a quality worthy of our scientists. We went further and created a new higher education innovation fund-currently worth £130 million a year-to encourage universities to ensure that the benefits of new discoveries spread beyond the scientific
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community into the wider community and society. That was because of the continued suggestion in British national life that we invented things, but the commercialisation and extension of that science was something that we were not able to do as effectively. To improve specialist science teaching in schools, we introduced incentives for teacher training. As a result, there are more science graduates in the system than ever before in our history.

That is why British science is strong today. It is the most productive in the G8, and ranks second only to that of the United States in international league tables. The National Physical Laboratory is a key component of that strength. Indeed, it has been an integral part of our science infrastructure ever since 1901. The work that it does in establishing, maintaining and refining national measurement standards may sound a bit academic and dry, but it underpins many of the scientific developments that we take for granted around us. Without incredibly accurate and consistent systems of measurement, the internet would not exist; nor would satellite navigation, microsurgery and advanced radiology, and many of the new green technologies on which a sustainable future will increasingly depend. That is why the National Physical Laboratory receives support from my Department on so large a scale.

To gain a clearer understanding of the issues, earlier today I discussed the case with the laboratory's parent organisation, the National Measurement Office. I have also heard from my right hon. and noble Friend the Minister for Science and Innovation, who is willing to meet the hon. Member for Twickenham if that would be helpful. He is keen to discuss the programme or timetable for decisions pertaining to the fiscal strength of the National Physical Laboratory.

Since 1995, the laboratory has been a Government-owned, contractor-operated institute. That means that it is owned by the taxpayer but operated under contract by a private company-in this case, a subsidiary of Serco. The contract runs until 2014, and guarantees the laboratory an index-linked annual minimum income from my Department. That currently stands at £41.5 million, but the actual funding that the laboratory receives this year will be £47.4 million-some 72 per cent. of its total income.

In his Front-Bench role, the hon. Member for Twickenham has acknowledged more than once the need for publicly funded bodies to make efficiencies in these difficult times. The National Physical Laboratory is not immune from that need, but the core funding that it receives next year from the Department will fall by a relatively small amount to £45 million. I remind the hon. Gentleman that that is not its sole income. Its status allows it to garner funds from other sources. I assure him in particular that the current problems that the laboratory faces are not, as his website claims, the result of

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Next year's grants from my Department should not affect the laboratory's sustainability, nor the jobs for the hon. Gentleman's constituents that it supports, because the amount will be substantially more than the contractual minimum that I have mentioned and on which the laboratory's planning assumptions have been based. I am bound to add that the current economic climate would make many bodies envious of the funding that the laboratory has received. It is important to go back to the contractual basis and the funding that Serco said that it needed to run the laboratory, and to recognise that the Government have gone further and will still go further next year, notwithstanding the efficiencies that we have had to make. The Government's continuing commitment to the laboratory's work has, I hope, been demonstrated by, among other things, significant investment in its facilities, with a new laboratory building just completed.

Moreover, the laboratory's core funding does not include nearly £1 million that it will receive over the next three years from my Department's public sector research exploitation fund to help it to strengthen its capacity to commercialise the work that it does. That in turn should help it to diversify its sources of income for future years. I should also mention the research councils. The laboratory cannot receive funds directly from them, but it may benefit from them by working in partnership with bodies-notably universities-that can receive research council grants. Indeed, it is doing so. Two current projects are especially worthy of note. One is the LIDAR-light detection and ranging-sensing technology system for aircraft that the laboratory is developing with the universities of Cambridge and Manchester. The other is the post-doctoral research partnership in measurement technologies that the laboratory has formed with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

None of that is to say that the laboratory's management are not dealing with serious problems, which cut to the heart of the issues that the hon. Gentleman has rightly brought to the House. Assumptions have been made that are not quite bearing fruit. I am not sure that they are entirely in relation to Government grant because, as I said, we are meeting our minimum standards, but there have been costs, particularly in respect of energy, that were not predicted but have gone up substantially, and costs in respect of pensions, which perhaps are more predictable but nevertheless are making the business plan particularly difficult at this time. Those issues cut to the heart of the laboratory's current problems.

The Department is very keen to work with the hon. Gentleman and the laboratory to find a way to deal with the matter. There may have to be some reorganisation, but we are clear that we remain keen to ensure that we preserve the infrastructure and ensure that fundamental capabilities in key areas such as health, energy-

Mr. Jim Hood (in the Chair): Order. We must now move on to the next debate.

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Bone Marrow Register

1 pm

Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): In the past two years, two people I personally know have been struck down with leukaemia, as was another person I admired from afar-the late campaigning journalist, Adrian Sudbury, who worked with the Anthony Nolan Trust to do more than anyone else to raise awareness of bone marrow issues.

Of the two people I know personally, one is a young lad called Max Tami, who is only 11 years old-he was nine years old when he was struck down with leukaemia. He is the son of my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami), who is a friend and colleague. The other person is a constituent and friend of mine, Mike Peters, who used to be the lead singer with the 1980s Welsh band The Alarm. Since the band split up, Mike has pursued a very successful solo career. Both those individuals have tried to raise awareness of leukaemia and of the importance of donating stem cells and bone marrow to help cancer sufferers. Max recently had a starring role on "Children in Need", where he nearly outshone Terry Wogan, asking people to come forward to be donors.

Two years ago, Mike Peters was stricken with cancer for the second time in his life. Mike is a whirlwind of energy and has promoted awareness of the importance of donating. He has done that with his band at the top of the Empire State building, as well as from the foothills of Everest and the foothills of Kilimanjaro. He co-founded his own charity, the Love Hope Strength Foundation, with fellow cancer sufferer, American citizen James Chippendale. The two have hosted more than 80 donor drives at music events across the US. Their foundation was sponsored by DKMS and Visa and has become the first resident charity at the famed Red Rocks amphitheatre in Colorado. Donors at those events offer a saliva DNA swab, which allows the health authorities to identify life-saving matches. James Chippendale's own life was saved by that method.

In one year, the Love Hope Strength Foundation has brought awareness of the need for donors to more than 1 million people, and registered 4,500 bone marrow donors. To put that in perspective, the total number of donors registered in Northern Ireland is 9,000, so in one year the two individuals behind the foundation registered the equivalent of almost half that country's donors-a fantastic result.

That success was possible because the American and German systems allow the identification of donors from DNA mouth swabs. In the UK, NHS bone marrow identification is done through the blood donor pool. A DNA swab is far less invasive than extracting a hypodermic needle full of blood from a donor's arm. Mike Peters is prepared to do similar work in the UK if he is allowed to. He is prepared to use the contacts he has made over 32 years in the music business to raise this important issue.

Mike rang me excitedly at the weekend to say that he had just learned that the Anthony Nolan Trust was doing a pilot project on DNA mouth swabs. I had to tell him that I already knew because I was at the trust's event in the House of Commons last week. I was presented with one of the mouth swab packs and I want
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to present the Minister with one after the debate, because they are a big step forward in increasing the number of people on the bone marrow register.

I want to raise a number of issues with the Minister, which I shall do by reviewing the parliamentary questions that I have placed before her over the past two or three weeks. Each of those questions raises additional questions, so I want to give a flavour of the remaining unanswered questions.

In answer to one of my questions, the Minister stated that

Why is the NHS bone marrow register kept at 300,000 if two patients a day are unsuccessful in finding a suitable bone marrow match?

In answer to parliamentary question 304105, in which I asked what proportion of UK patients received their stem cell or bone marrow donation from UK or foreign donors, I was told that the information was not collected. How do we know whether we have sufficient UK stem cell and bone marrow donors if the Department does not collect figures on the provenance of the donor tissue? The country of origin of stem cell and bone marrow donations is also not collected. Are some countries being relied on more heavily than others to provide donor material? Is Britain a net exporter or a net importer of such material?

When the Department collects figures, disparities appear. I tabled parliamentary question 300913 to ask for a breakdown of the numbers and percentages of bone marrow donors for the regions of England and for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The English regions-the northern region includes my area of north Wales-seem to recruit 30 per cent. of the existing pool of blood donors on the bone marrow register. In Northern Ireland, the figure is only 3 per cent., and in Scotland, it is only 4.5 per cent. The figures for Wales are not held. The answers to my parliamentary questions confirm that no meeting has taken place between the Secretary of State and the devolved Administrations to discuss correcting that imbalance. Why is there a disparity between the number of donors in Northern Ireland and Scotland and in the English and north Wales regions? Why are the Welsh figures not collected? I know that the hon. Lady is an English Minister, but there is interdependence between the UK's four constituent parts. Why has no meeting taken place between all the health administrations to address the issue?

I tabled parliamentary questions 304184 and 304100 on the collection of umbilical cord blood. I asked for the total amounts of umbilical cord blood that were processed and stored in the NHS cord bank in each of the past 10 years and for the number of units that were actually used to save patients' lives. In 1997, there were 862 units; in 2009, there are 1,712. In 1999, three units were used in operations to save people's lives; in 2009, 43 units were used. Why has the annual number of donors only doubled in 10 years? The Anthony Nolan Trust says that 50,000 umbilical cord units are needed? Why have we not reached that target after 12 years?

In parliamentary question 304106, I asked for the number of cord blood units that the NHS cord bank has issued for transplant into patients since 1998. The
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number rose from a low of three per annum in 1998 to 44 in 2007, and the figure has now stabilised at around that level-I think it was 47 and 43 in the past two years. Why are the numbers so low when the need is so high? What is happening to the unused cord blood from newborn babies? Is it simply being thrown away while lives are lost for want of a proper match?

In parliamentary questions 304099 and 304103, I asked for the budgets for the marketing activities intended to attract blood donors, because bone marrow donors are taken from the blood donor pool. I am pleased that the amount has gone up from £10.5 million to £14.5 million over the past eight years-an increase of nearly 50 per cent. However, the number of donors has decreased from 1.8 million, or 3.7 per cent. of the population, to 1.4 million, or 2.7 per cent. of the population, over the past eight years. Will the Minister check the effectiveness of the campaigns? Will she consider separating the advertising campaigns for blood and bone marrow? Will she also consider greater joint working with charities, with volunteer bodies such as the Anthony Nolan Trust and Adrian Sudbury's Register and Be a Lifesaver project and with civic-minded individuals such as Mike Peters. There is a pool of talent that is not being fully utilised.

Last week I attended a parliamentary function held in the Terrace marquee by the Anthony Nolan Trust, to highlight its work. I thank the trust for its pioneering work in the past 35 years. It is the largest and probably best regarded bone marrow register in the world, and it was the first in the world. It is successful because it focuses on one issue and one goal. It has limited itself to the goal of providing bone marrow donors for transplants in the UK and abroad. The trust informed me that two UK patients every day are denied the chance of a life-saving transplant because of the lack of suitable adult matches or cord bank blood.

The Anthony Nolan Trust has not rested on its laurels. It currently has more than 400,000 people on its register-compared with 300,000 on the national health service register. The trust has taken 35 years to reach that figure and its vision is to recruit 1 million registered donors by 2014. To achieve that, it will need the help of the Minister and the Department.

The register is not just about numbers. It is also vital to have a greater number of young male donors and black and ethnic minority people, to increase the life chances of such people should they be threatened by leukaemia. One of the key issues that Mike Peters has raised, which I have raised in questions, is the need for saliva tests to identify donors. That need is being addressed by the Anthony Nolan Trust, which has piloted saliva testing. I hope that the Minister will convince her Department that what is good enough for the Anthony Nolan Trust register is good enough for the national health service. I hope that my friend Mike Peters will become involved in that charity's bone marrow register events across the UK.

The Anthony Nolan Trust already works closely with the Department and with the devolved Health Departments in the United Kingdom. In Scotland it works with the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service to encourage blood donors to join the Anthony Nolan register. As I mentioned, the registration rate in Scotland is only 4.5 per cent., as opposed to 33 per cent. in England, so there is much work to be done. The trust is also trying
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to persuade the Scottish service to allow direct recruitment of people on to the bone marrow register without their previously going on the blood register. The Anthony Nolan Trust seeks even closer co-operation with the English NHS. It has the aspiration of a single, highly effective register, managed by the trust. I urge the Minister to consider the proposal carefully.

To supplement the adult register, the Anthony Nolan Trust has established a purpose-built cord blood bank, which was opened by the previous Secretary of State in September 2008. In the past four years, the trust has imported 268 cord blood units for UK patients-more than have been provided by the NHS cord blood bank in 13 years. That gives a measure of its effectiveness. Last year alone it imported 90 cords for UK patients. That is costly, and would be unnecessary if an effective UK programme existed. The UK is currently underperforming in the harvesting of cord blood, as my parliamentary questions illustrated. The current world leaders are Spain and Canada. The UK collects only a tiny amount-I think it is something like 0.13 per cent. The rest of that elixir is simply thrown away, although most mothers, if asked, would willingly let that blood-their baby's blood-be used to save life. The Anthony Nolan Trust has a plan to collect 15,000 clinical samples by 2012 from a network of 10 collection centres across the UK. That will cost £15.2 million, and I believe that the Department approached the trust and asked it formally to apply for the funding. The submission was made in June 2009, but since that date there has been little progress. I do not think that the trust has heard from the Department. That excellent project makes sense in many ways: it meets the desires of mothers make positive use of the umbilical cord; it gives a community focus; it saves the lives of thousands of patients; and it will create a world-leading resource in the UK and build a resource for the future. In addition to its life-giving properties for leukaemia sufferers, a cord bank could offer help to those suffering from diabetes, Parkinson's disease, heart disease and many other conditions.

As well as its work on increasing the number of bone marrow and cord blood donors, the Anthony Nolan Trust does excellent work to educate young people about how easy it is to donate bone marrow, blood and organs. It has fully supported the Adrian Sudbury Campaign to raise awareness among 17 and 18-year-olds. The awareness raising campaign, which was supported by the Department of Health, was a huge success and will be extended to cover England and Wales.

At a cancer campaigning day two weeks ago held at Church House, my friend and constituent Mike Peters asked whether the Secretary of State would meet him and me to discuss bone marrow issues. The Secretary of State agreed. Will the Minister please set up a meeting with the Secretary of State, herself, Mike Peters and the Anthony Nolan Trust to take forward the issues I have raised in debate: increasing the size of the adult bone marrow register and the possibility of the merger of the English or UK registers; taking forward the Anthony Nolan Trust proposal to establish a £15.2 million centre in the UK for a cord blood donation programme; and greater use of education and awareness schemes like those operated by the Adrian Sudbury initiative and the programmes that Mike Peters has implemented with young people at American rock festivals?

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We have a golden opportunity to make the UK the world centre for bone marrow and stem cell registers. We have the disparate parts; there are fantastic voluntary organisations and individuals, sometimes working in ignorance of each other. I look to the Minister to establish funding and co-ordination to achieve those noble goals.

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