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House of Lords

Wednesday, 8 February 2006.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Truro): the LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Business

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, this is slightly unusual, but with permission I should like to make a short statement about the conduct of the House during Question Time. This has been raised with me by a number of noble Lords. Before I make the statement, I want to make it absolutely clear that what I say has nothing at all to do with today's Questions.

The guidance in the Companion is very clear: supplementary questions should be relevant, should seek information and should be confined to one or two points. I have also reminded my ministerial colleagues that initial Answers should be no longer than 75 words and that supplementary answers should be brief. I hope that this reminder is helpful.

Children: Diabetes

3.01 pm

Lord Harrison asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they will take to improve the care of children with diabetes.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My Lords, national guidance for improving standards of care for children with diabetes was published in the Diabetes National Service Framework in 2001. That was supplemented by further standards published in the Children's National Service Framework in 2004. As a result of monitoring the implementation of those standards, the national clinical directors for diabetes and for children have established a working group to help improve the ability of the NHS to meet the standards.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Nevertheless, does he recognise the important role played by specialist paediatric diabetic nurses, especially at a time when as many as four in five diabetic children fail to achieve proper monitoring of their blood sugar levels in their tests? Does he regret that only one in four PCTs is prioritising the appointment of such nurses in its local delivery plans? Can he also ensure that we have a full complement of school nurses and teachers trained in the treatment of diabetes, to avoid regrettable incidents such as that last week when a six year-old child was dismissed from school in Dorset?

Lord Warner: My Lords, it is for local diabetic teams to determine the appropriate composition to meet the
 
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needs of their communities, but we recommend multi-disciplinary paediatric diabetes teams, including specialist nurses, in the national service framework. I share the concerns expressed by my noble friend about the episode in Dorset. I think that the school has apologised, and in conjunction with the Department for Education and Skills we have produced guidance to help schools in this area.

Lord Addington: My Lords, is there a target for the number of designated consultant paediatricians who are specialists in diabetes, and how far have we come to meeting such a target?

Lord Warner: My Lords, I am not aware that there is such a target, but I will check and write to the noble Lord.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that type 2 diabetes should be avoided at all costs? Should not schools offer health education to encourage children to take more exercise, eat less sugar and follow a healthy diet, so that they grow up without developing diabetes?

Lord Warner: My Lords, it would be difficult to disagree with the noble Baroness. Public health measures are in place to try to tackle the problem of obesity in children, which often leads to the development of type 2 diabetes. A good example is the WATCH IT! programme in Leeds, which tries to tackle some of the problems.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, will my noble friend congratulate the Austrian presidency on prioritising diabetes as a matter of concern, especially type 2 diabetes? Does he recognise that there are 20,000 children with type 1 diabetes and, at the moment, only 200 a year with type 2? Children with type 1 diabetes must not be forgotten.

Lord Warner: My Lords, my noble friend is right. We need to tackle issues around both type 1 and type 2 diabetes in children. We fully support the initiative taken by the Austrian presidency, which has made diabetes a key issue, and we are participating in the work that it is doing. Our national clinical director for diabetes is leading the work that we are doing with the Austrian presidency.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, is the gun-type syringe available to all children who have to inject themselves daily and are capable of using it?

Lord Warner: My Lords, there are a variety of ways of providing support to children in this area, including inhalation pumps. I shall write to the noble Lord with more details of the processes.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that only a quarter of primary care trusts have prioritised improvements in paediatric services in their local delivery plans? Is he satisfied with that?

Lord Warner: My Lords, I do not have the precise figures. We leave it to PCTs to assess the health needs of their local community and to determine their priorities in the light of that.

Earl Howe: My Lords, the specialist nature of managing childhood diabetes and childhood obesity
 
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often requires hospital attention, as opposed to going to the GP. Given that, will the White Paper mean that treatment facilities of this kind may be transferred closer to the patient's home, removing the need for children to attend hospital, which can often be a daunting experience?

Lord Warner: My Lords, the noble Earl is right: visiting hospital can be a daunting experience for children. It will be for the PCTs in the light of their discussions with specialist clinicians to set up the most appropriate services, but, like him, I hope that some of the services could move closer to home, as is the spirit of the White Paper.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that the density of diabetes in children is greater among ethnic minority children? To what extent is that the case?

Lord Warner: My Lords, we know that type 2 diabetes is much higher in a number of ethnic minority communities, in poorer areas and in more disadvantaged groups of the population, so my noble friend is right.

Higher Education: Part-time Students

3.08 pm

Baroness Lockwood asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made towards increasing financial support for part-time students in higher education institutions.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Adonis): My Lords, we are increasing the maximum fee grant for part-time students by 27 per cent next year, from £885 to £1,125, while maintaining the new course grant at £250. We are also raising the income thresholds to qualify for support, and the Access to Learning Fund allocation for part-time students will increase from £3 million to £12 million. That is the best deal ever offered to part-time students in England. Devolved administrations make their own arrangements.

Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that welcome information. However, can he confirm that, after variable fees become operable and their effects have been monitored, there will be no delay in implementing all the HEFCE proposals, including the teaching element, for part-time students in our universities?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, as my noble friend will be aware, last November my honourable friend the higher education Minister announced an extra £40 million of support over the next two years in respect of under-represented groups in part-time higher education. The consultation undertaken by
 
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HEFCE on the new funding methodology has now been completed. HEFCE is considering its final recommendations, and we intend to make those available in due course.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, I declare an interest as an honorary fellow of Birkbeck College, which concentrates on part-time students. Everybody will welcome what the Government are doing directly for part-time students. Ministers have given specific assurances that help will be provided for the institutions themselves, such as Birkbeck, the Open University and other universities. As my noble friend has said, some other universities are seeking to delay the introduction of HEFCE's recommendations. Will my noble friend ignore those other universities—perhaps telling us who they are—and give us a clear assurance that the Government will not delay the introduction recommended by HEFCE of increased grants?


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