Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
MONDAY 23 APRIL 2001
BICHARD, KCB, MR
80. Would you like to quantify what it is again
(Sir Michael Bichard) The entitlement which the Prime
Minister has committed the Government to is two hours a week.
81. I do not know how fast you can do a marathon,
but I do not think I could do it in two hours and that is a week.
If you will excuse the pun, this is the most heavyweight group
of Permanent Secretaries we have seen in front of this Committee
for quite some months. We have three Permanent Secretaries, a
brace of Chief Executives. You are a pretty high powered committee,
which I presume reflects the importance that Government places
on this issue. I need no persuasion of it. Anything which is costing
18 million working days a year and £2 billion in lost production
is pretty serious stuff. What I cannot accept is that our school
programme only incorporating an aspiration of two hours a week
is anywhere near enough to get children into a pattern of sporting
and physical recreation which is going to make any difference
in their lives whatsoever.
(Sir Michael Bichard) You have to remember that children
actually spend a relatively short period of time in school every
week and there are clearly great pressures on the curriculum time
they are spending in the school. The Government has made this
commitment to increase the time spent in the curriculum and outside
the curriculum but within the school setting on physical education.
The Government has introduced into the curriculum for the first
time personal social and health education which is about encouraging
people of the importance of exercise, amongst other things, in
their life generally. The Government is also trying to increase
the amount of time which people are spending in travelling to
schools by foot or by bike. The number of things being done cannot
all be done within the curriculum.
82. I understand that. May I then press you
on that point? It is a fair point you make that you can only get
so much into the hours which are provided in school each week.
Is that not a very good reason to look at the curriculum, to look
at the hours per week which are spent in school, to see whether
it can be changed in some waythis is a major change we
are talking about, but it is a fundamentally important issueso
that sport assumes a central role in the lives of students. Yes,
it may mean a longer working day in the school. It may mean that
you actually break up the time of study and intersperse into the
middle of that day time for sporting activity. That also may mean
that school becomes a lot more family friendly, with parents who
need to work, with parents who have to pick up their children
at the end of the day. Do you not think that if you are actually
going to achieve anything, you need to look at that, to try to
get sports activities central into the school curriculum?
(Sir Michael Bichard) We do keep the national curriculum
under review. We have recently had a review. As a result we introduced
the PSHE framework for the first time onto the curriculum. A lot
of teachers felt that this was a burden which they could not cope
with because of the other pressures on the curriculum. One of
the reasons we did that was because we think it important to educate
children on the use of all of their time, not just this small
pocket of time they spend in school every week. I still believe
that is probably the right way forward. There is a limit to how
much we can squeeze in for this very short period of time. Our
task should be to try to educate young people about choices and
about lifestyles which will make them healthier and also, amongst
other things, encourage them to be good citizens.
83. I should like to adopt a lot of the questioning
of Mr Gardiner. I too noticed this paragraph about the fact that
we would have to run a marathon a week in order to make up what
we have lost over the last 50 years in terms of physical activity,
which is a fairly shocking indictment of our present lifestyle.
I limited myself to watching my son run the mini marathon yesterday;
that was my exercise. Have you done any comparison with the private
sector education and the public sector? I happened to be looking
only a couple of weekends ago at a timetable for a public school
and it was very apparent there that every single day, in the middle
of the day or the early afternoon, or some time, time was set
aside for sport. Obviously, to be fair to you, that was a boarding
school. Much easier for them. However, I do think Mr Gardiner
has a point that if the cost to the nation is of the magnitude
we are talking about today, then we may have to look at a fundamental
re-appraisal of sport in schools and the timetable in schools.
(Sir Michael Bichard) I do not have the figures about
private schools, although I was going to ask whether it was a
boarding school. Although time spent on PE in the school has reduced
over the last five years, children involved in school exercise
outside the curriculum has actually increased in the same period
of time. Seventy-four per cent of children were involved in after-school
exercise in 1994, 79 per cent in 1999. The number of children
involved in lunchtime exercise has similarly gone up by five per
cent over that period of time. It is a mixed picture. There is
a reduction in school, there is an increase out of school. Most
children spend most of their time out of school and we need to
educate them and encourage them to participate particularly outside
84. That is a fair point. I have a child myself
at a comprehensive school in London and it is a very good comprehensive
school which has very effective after-school provision. Is the
pattern very mixed around the country in terms of making sure
that all these kids, if they wanted to stay behind, could do some
(Sir Michael Bichard) It is mixed. I do not have the
figures for all sports, but if you look at swimming for example,
there is quite a wide range in terms of the number of children
at the end of Key Stage 2 who can swim 25 metres and some of it
does depend upon where they are going to school. Some of the poorer
neighbourhoods, because they are under such pressure, are not
providing the same opportunities. That is one of the things we
do need to look at. As far as swimming is concerned, there is
a focus group which will be looking at that amongst other things.
You are right that we do need to be aware of the range of opportunities.
85. You are putting more resources, more pressure,
particularly in less favoured neighbourhoods in trying to help
the school provide sports clubs at four o'clock in the afternoon.
(Sir Michael Bichard) Quite a lot of the education
initiatives have been focused on disadvantaged areas. If you look
at some of the particular initiatives we have funded in recent
years from education action zones, excellence in cities, right
the way through to cooking for kids which is a rather good summertime
scheme to help children to understand some of the choices we have
been talking about. A lot of that has been focused on the poorer
86. We have had a submission from TOAST which
is pretty damning about the levels of service given by GPs.
Ninety per cent of obese people thought that their GPs did not
or only occasionally provided the right kind of support. That
is on the second page of the TOAST letter and attachment which
we have received. They reported that management of obesity in
the NHS was patchy, there was widespread uncertainty of the referral
options available as well as the efficacy of the treatments available.
Do you think you have made enough effort to equip your GPs with
adequate resources and information on such a serious issue?
(Mr Crisp) May I first of all say that
I have not seen the TOAST letter? The general point in this report
shows that we have not. If you look at page 27, it shows what
GPs are specifically asking for in terms of better information
about active interventions and improved access to people like
trained exercise specialists and so on. There is a whole series
of things which GPs are asking for in order to provide the sort
of support required.
87. Have you initiated best practice guidelines
for GPs and other health care professionals?
(Mr Crisp) I shall not repeat what I said earlier
about the fact that we are now, as of this April, bringing people
into having local plans for tackling overweight people and obesity.
In terms of guidelines, we have a number of things which are available
which we have promoted, not actually provided by the Department
of Health. We shall be considering with NICE, the National Institute
for Clinical Excellence, whether we should get them to provide
some guidelines for this. One of the difficulties around this
is that there is not that much research yet of what is really
properly effective. The short answer is that there are some guidelines
available. They are not fully comprehensive, we shall be looking
with the National Institute of Clinical Excellence at whether
to provide something more comprehensive.
88. Like my colleagues, I am very impressed
that we have three Permanent Secretaries here. In the past there
would have been some huge issue of peace or war at stake to get
three Permanent Secretaries in front of a House of Commons Committee.
We did a bit of research in my office today. We found out that
there were 261,000 registered cancer sufferers in 1994, the NHS
spent approximately £1.5 billion on treating them. There
are eight million adults in the UK who are obese and we only spend
£½ billion on their treatment. Do we really take the
(Mr Crisp) I am not quite sure where those figures
come from specifically but we tackle obesity as part of a bigger
issue. The deaths which are recorded in this document are people
dying from diseases to which obesity has contributed. I suspect
that the amount of money we are putting into obesity, as this
document again says, is under-calculated. We suspect that it is
more but it is put in in association with other treatments.
89. Why were there only 12 obesity clinics in
the whole of England in 1998 and they were only open for half
a day per week or fortnight?
(Mr Crisp) It is the same point, which is that the
way to tackle obesity appears to be much more to tackle it as
part of tackling other issues. In a way it goes back to Mr Rendel's
point that actually obesity may be a symptom of something else
and that we need to be tackling the underlying issues rather than
tackling obesity as a single issue. There are certain things where
it is reasonable to tackle obesity on a basis entirely by itself,
but a lot of that is not yet proven.
90. According to this dial I would have to be
seriously overweight to be obese, yet apparently 21 per cent of
women in this country, 7 per cent of men,
are obese but only 12 clinics. You are saying it is part of a
bigger problem, but if this is really such a huge issue, it does
not look to me as though you are taking it terribly seriously.
(Mr Crisp) We are taking it seriously.
Part of the problem is the problem which both you and Mr Steinberg
alluded to, which is that people sometimes find it difficult to
take it seriously and therefore it does not perhaps appear to
be. If you actually look at what we are saying, it is that every
health authority now has to have an action plan.
91. Oh, an action plan. That is all right then.
(Mr Crisp) This report says we should treat it as
a first order priority, alongside other plans, and that we should
be looking at how we handle this, then it is now considerably
raised up the priorities from where it was before.
92. A more detailed question. I happen to know
somebody who is very seriously obese and they had this surgery
on their stomach, which did not seem to do very much good. Paragraph
3.64 of the NAO report does refer to this and say that it often
only has a short-term effect and the benefit is rarely sustained
in the long term. Can you tell me whether you have done a detailed
analysis of the effectiveness of this sort of treatment?
(Mr Crisp) Further evaluation needs to be done on
the specialist treatments. There is this treatment but there are
also drug treatments. Guidance on the first drug treatment has
now been produced by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence.
There is further evaluation to be done on whether or not the surgical
method you talked about is effective.
93. So you cannot give an answer at the moment.
(Mr Crisp) No.
94. It is all down to what the TOAST submission
tells us. It is really down to psychology, is it not?
(Mr Crisp) Part of it is to do with lifestyle, if
that is what you are meaning by psychology.
95. No, it is the psychology of the people who
(Mr Crisp) There is a whole set of issues which are
underlying this and reasons for why people may be obese. Those
need to be tackled rather than just assuming that we can deal
with it by people being strong minded.
96. I should like to ask each of you in turn
what your budget is for advertising healthy living and healthy
(Mr Crisp) I am sorry, I do not have that information
here if you mean the total spend.
97. Any ballpark figure of what has been spent
(Mr Crisp) I should really have to check on that.
98. You may get a note from behind. Mr Young?
(Mr Young) I would say we have nothing for advertising
healthy lifestyles in particular, but the whole of our sport policy
is about enhancing people's opportunity for a healthy life through
(Sir Michael Bichard) It is not part of our statutory
responsibility but the money we are spending on providing the
personal social and health education, the money we are spending
on sport in schools, the money we are spending on swimming in
schools, all of this.
99. I am quite keen on promotion.
(Sir Michael Bichard) There are different forms of
promotion and I would say the personal social and health education
is actually a very important form of promotion. What we are trying
to do is promote and market a healthy lifestyle to children.
10 Note: See Evidence (PAC 00-01/148), page
Note by Witness: The percentage of men who are obese is
17 per cent, not 7 per cent. Back
Note: See Evidence, Appendix 3, page 27 (PAC 00-01/168). Back