Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. The noble Lord,

23 Apr 2001 : Column 79

Lord Astor of Hever, raised a specific case. In Manchester's haemophilia treatment centre, patients from North Wales have to be treated more beneficially than local people because of a decision by the Welsh Assembly. What possible defence can be offered for treating people in Manchester differently from people from North Wales who are visiting the North-West of England to attend the treatment centre? They have to be prescribed recombinant treatment as of right and regardless of age and, therefore, are treated more beneficially than Manchester patients. Is it not possible now to say that such discrimination cannot continue?

Lord Burlison: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Astor, raised the issue in relation to recombinant factors and treatment. I tried to set out the difficulties surrounding that issue at the moment. The Government are considering the issue. Indeed, when they are in a position to do so, they will make a decision. If the noble Lord is not happy with that, I am ready to write to him.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor, raised the issue of consistency of treatment. There is evidence that greater consistency is needed across the country in the delivery of clinical care for haemophilia patients. The professional groups with an interest in haemophilia have recommended the development of a set of minimum standards for service delivery. That should be a very effective way of helping to standardise all aspects of haemophilia services in the longer term and get rid of any unacceptable variations in care. With that in mind, the Haemophilia Alliance, which includes the Haemophilia Society and the UK Haemophilia Centre Doctors Organisation, has developed a national service specification. The specification outlines the key components of a high quality haemophilia service, whether that is provided in the larger comprehensive care centres or the smaller haemophilia centres. That is currently out for consultation. The Department of Health will be submitting its comments shortly.

The Government recognise the importance of hepatitis C as a public health issue and the need to ensure that effective prevention, testing and treatment services are in place. It is essential that activities to tackle hepatitis C are developed in a strategic and co-ordinated manner. I believe that we are already doing that, but we wish to develop and strengthen our efforts.

As noble Lords will be aware, the Government have recently announced the establishment of a multi-disciplinary steering group to assist in developing a

23 Apr 2001 : Column 79

strategic approach to hepatitis C. The steering group, which is chaired by Professor Howard Thomas of Imperial College School of Medicine, will bring together issues relating to prevention, control and treatment. It will produce a document by the end of this calendar year for consultation with the National Health Service, professional bodies and voluntary and community sector organisations.

In 1999 we asked NICE to assess the interferon/ribavirin combination therapy as a matter of urgency. NICE's guidance was published last autumn and provided clear and authoritative advice for clinicians and healthcare providers. Combination therapy is recommended as the treatment of first choice for moderate to severe hepatitis C in previously untreated patients and patients treated with interferon monotherapy who responded but have relapsed. The treatment should make a significant improvement to the prognosis for many people with hepatitis C.

Several other therapeutic agents which also show great promise are in development. Other treatments are being researched, such as different combinations of drugs. The next few years are likely to see significant developments and improvements in the treatments available.

As I have outlined, there is much that we can do and are doing through improved treatments and services to help people with haemophilia. We shall continue to work with all those involved in haemophilia care to improve the services and support available to haemophiliacs with hepatitis C.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he can help me on one point. I understand fully the principle to which the Government have adhered; namely, that compensation is not paid in a situation such as this, where negligence cannot be established. What would assist me would be to understand how the position of haemophiliacs differs from that of victims of criminal injuries; that is, persons who have been injured by criminal activity. Millions of pounds have been spent and continue to be spent, but there is no question of any negligence or vicarious liability. Can the noble Lord explain how to differentiate one from the other?

Lord Burlison: My Lords, I understand the noble and learned Lord's question, but I do not think that I can assist him. This is an area I would be quite loath to go into. I shall write to the noble and learned Lord on the matter.

        House adjourned at twenty-two minutes past seven o'clock.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page