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House of Lords

Wednesday, 8th February 1995.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of St. Albans.

Student Grants and Loans: Fraud

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action is being taken to identify fraudulent applications for student grants and loans.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, local education authorities, the Student Loans Company, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, the Department for Education and the police are all taking action to identify and eliminate fraudulent grant applications.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply. Can he confirm recent reports in the press of organised widespread criminal activity, including forgery and invention of non-existent students? If they are correct, should not counter-measures be accelerated since the money lost could be used to help genuine students who are finding it difficult to make ends meet?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I can confirm that over the past year or two we have been aware that there has been a considerable increase in fraudulent applications for grants and loans. We have, along with the authorities that I mentioned in my first reply, taken substantial measures to combat this, including the recently announced grant to UCAS of £120,000 to develop further the measures that it already takes. I would of course be reluctant to go into any details as to what measures are being taken since that information could only help people to succeed where we hope they will not.

Baroness David: My Lords, can the Minister give us a real assurance that the Student Loans Company is itself being well run and there has been no corruption there at all, because there have been allegations that it is being run appallingly badly? Can he give us any reassurance that those faults have been corrected?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, as those who attended Monday's debate last week will be aware, we very much regret the administrative problems at the Student Loans Company which caused inconvenience to tens of thousands of students. I can confirm what I said then, that those problems have now been overcome and that we are putting considerable efforts into making sure that they do not re-occur. The noble Baroness mentioned the subject of fraud. As she will know, Coopers are conducting a forensic audit into certain matters which have been brought to our attention by a former employee of the Student Loans Company. I do not wish

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before that report is made public to comment in any detail but I can say that they are matters more of principle than of amount.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone: My Lords, can my noble friend give the House some indication in figures of the extent of this abuse?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, the Audit Commission believes that the total of identified fraud is about £2.3 million. It is inevitable that there will be some unidentified fraud but given the efforts we are making we do not believe that that is particularly large.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, how many applications are found to be fraudulent?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I can give the noble Lord the figures for the Student Loans Company. In 1993-94 there were 67 proven cases of fraud and in 1994-95 to date there have been 41 cases.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, what assurance can the Minister give the House that the £120,000 over two years given to UCAS to set up computerised tracking devices is going to be enough to crack this problem in two years? If the answer is that he cannot be certain, will he now give us a commitment that appropriate support to UCAS will continue until this fraud is eliminated; and can he further confirm that universities will not be put to additional expense in solving this problem which is none of their making?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, of course I cannot give the detailed confirmation that the noble Lord asks for. However, I can say that we treat the problem extremely seriously and will do all that is reasonably in our power to eliminate it.

Lord Boardman: My Lords, my noble friend referred to proven cases. Can he say whether there have been any prosecutions and with what result?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am afraid I do not have the information my noble friend asks for, but I shall write to him.

Lord Orr-Ewing: My Lords, can my noble friend remind the House what percentage of total student grant applications are fraudulent?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, the answer is something less than a tenth of 1 per cent.

Heart Disease: Treatment

2.43 p.m.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many people in the United Kingdom are affected by heart failure every year; and what initiatives are in progress to improve its identification and treatment.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): My Lords, the information is not available in the form

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requested, but in 1992-93 there were 660,000 admissions to NHS hospitals for all forms of heart disease. Initiatives include Health of the Nation targets to prevent heart disease, reducing waiting times for treatment, issuing guidance to health authorities and funding initiatives on training, audit and information systems.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware of the initiative of my local national health hospital in Birmingham, the Selly Oak Hospital, which has set up a one-day examination programme for GP patients? The patients go through the whole process of testing for heart failure, including an echocardiogram. Is she aware that that has saved the hospital a considerable amount of money? Will she look at that example to see whether national guidelines can be drawn from it to the benefit of patients and the health service generally?

Baroness Cumberlege: Yes, my Lords, I shall certainly do what the noble Baroness requests. Clinical guidelines are currently being drawn up by a joint audit committee of the Royal College of Physicians and the British Cardiac Society. I would expect the committee to take that example on board. I shall draw it to its attention in case it has not.

Lord Carr of Hadley: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if we are to reduce the scourge of heart disease in terms of both death and disability in this country, early detection of any tendency to the disease is of the utmost importance? In that connection, has she considered, or will she consider, the possibility of an increased role for the technique of nuclear magnetic resonance scans as a means of identifying such tendencies in a non-invasive way? Will she also consider the possible use of mobile units which could go round the country to different hospitals and reduce the enormous capital expenditure involved in introducing such scanning units hospital by hospital?

Baroness Cumberlege: Yes, my Lords. That is a very good suggestion. I know that mobile units in other spheres, such as scanning for breast cancer, have been very valuable. As to early detection and prevention, as Valentine's Day is less than a week away it is important that your Lordships should look after your hearts, even if you do not wish to give them away.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the black spots with a high ratio of heart disease are all to be found in inner city areas in cities such as Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Liverpool? As the figures in those areas are still frightening, can she give any indication whether there is any possibility of targeting increased resources to those black spots?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, those figures are taken into account when resources are allocated to different health authorities. The noble Lord is absolutely right. The variation across the country is considerable.

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But we are aware of that and we try to target resources. We know that lifestyles in particular are very important in this issue.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that this very morning I spoke to the world famous professor of thrombosis, Professor Kakkar? Is she aware that he told me that at King's College Hospital they sometimes have to cancel operations at the last minute because the intensive care beds are taken up by victims of acts of violence such as stabbings, and therefore the heart cases have to wait? Is that not a terrible waste of talent and resources?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, this Chamber is a power house of information. I was not party to the conversations that the noble Baroness had with members of the public, but I am always willing to learn.

Lord Ennals: My Lords, in view of the figure mentioned by the Minister, which illustrates the enormous size of the problem, and the point made by the noble Lord on the Bench behind her concerning the urgency of obtaining rapid diagnosis, can the noble Baroness say what priority is being given by the department to ensuring that the type of facilities at Selly Oak to which my noble friend referred are available in other parts of the country?

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