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Prescriptions and Optical Vouchers

Mr. Benton: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans he has to increase charges in the NHS and the value of optical vouchers; and if he will make a statement. [154513]

Mr. Milburn: We shall lay before the House regulations to increase National Health Service charges in England from 1 April 2001. There will be a cash increase in the charge of 10 pence (1.67 per cent.) from £6.00 to £6.10 for each quantity of a drug or appliance dispensed.

The cost of prescription prepayment certificates will rise to £31.90 for a four month certificate and £87.60 for an annual certificate. These offer savings for those needing more than five items in four months or 14 in one year.

Prescription charges are expected to raise some £414 million for the NHS in 2001-02.

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Charges for elastic stockings and tights, wigs and most fabric supports supplied through the Hospital Service will be increased similarly.

The maximum patient charge for a single course of dental treatment begun on or after 1 April 2001 will increase from £354 to £360. Only about one in every 1,000 courses of treatment will attract the new maximum charge.

We have restricted the prescription charge increase to the same cash amount as the previous two years and the other increases are in line with this percentage increase.

Optical voucher values will increase overall by 2.5 per cent. to help children, people on low income and certain people with complex sight problems with the cost of spectacles or contact lenses.

NHS Charges and optical voucher values in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are a matter for the Devolved Administrations.

Details of the revised charges have been placed in the Library.


Mr. Paice: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many (a) red meat abattoirs and (b) poultry abattoirs were in operation on (i) 1 May 1997, (ii) 31 December 1998, (iii) 31 December 1999 and (iv) 31 December 2000; and how many were designated (A) small, (B) medium and (C) large on each date. [151816]

Ms Stuart: Abattoirs producing meat for sale for human consumption must be licensed in order to operate. They are classified as either full or low throughput. There is no separate classification for medium-sized abattoirs.

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The table details the number of full and low throughput red meat and poultry meat abattoirs licensed on 1 May 1997, 31 December 1998, 31 December 1999 and 31 December 2000.

Red meat abattoirs Poultry meat abattoirs
Full throughputLow throughputFull throughputLow throughput
1 May 1997
Northern Ireland140114
31 December 1998
Northern Ireland140114
31 December 1999
Northern Ireland150123
31 December 2000
Northern Ireland151102

(1) As at 1 June 1997. Information on throughput category not readily available

Mr. Drew: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many abattoirs there were, and how many closed, in each of the last 10 years. [151826]

Ms Stuart [holding answer 1 March 2001]: The tables give the number of licensed red meat and licensed poultry meat abattoirs in the United Kingdom from 1991 to 2000, and the number of licenses revoked in each year where this information is available.

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Red meat abattoirs

England Scotland Wales Northern Ireland

Poultry meat abattoirs

England Scotland Wales Northern Ireland

(2) Information is not available for these years.

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Departmental Business (Overseas Visits)

Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many visits abroad have been made by him and his Ministers on departmental business (a) since 1 May 1997 and (b) in the last 12 months. [149154]

Ms Stuart: Since 1 May 1997 there have been 49 visits abroad on departmental business made by the Secretary of State for Health or one of his Ministers. Of those 49 visits, 12 were made within the last 12 months.

Christchurch Health Centre

Mr. Chope: To ask the Secretary of State for Health, pursuant to his answer of 5 March 2001, Official Report, column 111W, on Christchurch Health Centre, on what date negotiations commenced for the release of the restrictions on the lease of the Christchurch Health Centre; what deadline has been set for the conclusion of these negotiations; and for what reason the responsibility for such negotiations is not being left to the assignee of the lease. [153551]

Ms Stuart: Negotiations for the release of the lease restrictions commenced in January of this year. No deadline has currently been set as the speed of progress on the negotiations will depend on the landlords.

To enable the premises to be satisfactorily marketed competitively on the open market it is necessary for prospective purchasers to have certainty on the terms of the lease. It has been advised, therefore, that the terms for a release of the lease restrictions be agreed before remarketing commences.


Mr. Syms: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what recent research his Department has (a) commissioned and (b) evaluated on the health effects of the use of aspartame in food; and if he will make a statement. [153905]

Ms Stuart [holding answer 15 March 2001]: Neither the Food Standards Agency (FSA) nor the Department has commissioned research into the health effects of aspartame in food. Aspartame (E951) has been approved in the United Kingdom since 1983 and full independent reviews of its safety have been carried out by the European Commission Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) and in the UK the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COT).

The Food Advisory Committee--one of the independent expert committees which advises the FSA--recently discussed aspartame in view of the concerns expressed by some consumers about its safety. The Committee noted that many papers on aspartame have

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been published in the scientific literature since the last full reviews. It asked the FSA to assess this additional literature and decide whether further detailed evaluation was warranted. If so, the SCF should be asked to conduct a formal review of the new data. The FSA is completing its assessment and will be writing shortly to the SCF.

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