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General Practitioners

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans he has to improve the retention of general practitioners in the national health service. [20658]

Mr. Hutton: We are improving retention in general practice by developing policies designed to improve working lives. Measures include increasing general practitioner numbers, improving the standard of GP premises, cutting bureaucracy, introducing an occupational health service for GPs and their staff and adopting a range of family friendly policies. We are working with the profession to identify further measures to boost GP numbers and make general practice a better place to work.

Cleft Lip and Palate Services

Mrs. Ellman: To ask the Secretary of State for Health, pursuant to his answer of 28 November 2001, which single north-west regional centre for cleft lip and palate services the clinical implementation group recommended to Ministers in accordance with the Clinical Standards Advisory group standards. [20411]

Jacqui Smith [holding answer 4 December 2001]: Proposals were submitted by the two regional tertiary paediatric trusts in the north-west, which reflected a service model based on one single regional centre providing all primary surgery to children with cleft lip and palate. A cleft review panel considered these proposals and recommended that the Royal Liverpool Children's Trust should go forward as the preferred option in the consultation document.

However, Ministers sought reassurance as to whether the proposed single site options to be consulted upon would provide the best quality service. Further work is currently being undertaken which is exploring the possible merits of a twin-site centre and whether this could offer greater potential for maximising access to skills and attracting applications from a range of high quality technicians.

Positive discussions are now progressing between the two trusts in Liverpool and Manchester and it is anticipated that as a result of these joint discussions a number of options, together with a clear recommendation, will go to public consultation in January 2002.

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Dr. Kumar: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement of the possible use of GM animal tissue and organs for xenotransplantation. [20917]

Jacqui Smith: We are assisted in the consideration of issues about xenotransplantation by the United Kingdom Xenotransplantation Interim Regulatory Authority (UKXIRA). The authority was established in 1997 and, in addition to advising the Government on the acceptability of specific applications to undertake xenotransplantation procedures, it also acts as a focal point for xenotransplantation issues. Organisations undertaking research into xenotransplantation in the UK are required to comply with all relevant legislation. No clinical trials involving humans have yet been approved in the UK. Our position remains that clinical trials in xenotransplantation involving humans will only be allowed to take place when we are fully satisfied that the risks associated with such procedures are acceptable taking account of all the available evidence at the time.


Mr. Connarty: To ask the Secretary of State for Health whether a safer recombinant treatment product will be made available to haemophilia sufferers in England and Northern Ireland. [21720]

Mr. Hutton: We are actively considering extending the provision of recombinant clotting factors to all haemophilia patients in England when supplies allow. Currently the policy is to provide recombinant (synthetic) clotting factors for new haemophilia patients and children under 16.

Questions relating to Northern Ireland are a matter for the devolved Administration.

Trainee Nurses

Mr. Denis Murphy: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many (a) female and (b) male trainee nurses have been recruited into the NHS in the last 12 months. [21599]

Mr. Hutton: 20,021 nurses entered nurse and midwifery training in 2000–01. The breakdown by sex is not collected centrally.

The non-medical work force census records changes in the size and composition of the nursing work force employed in the national health service. In 1999, 31,070 male and 279,080 female nurses were employed in hospital and community health services (HCHS) (the breakdown by sex is not collected for practice nurses). In 2000 there were 32,380 male and 284,370 female HCHS nurses.

Medical Robotics

Mr. Nigel Jones: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what advice is available to NHS trusts on the medical and cost benefits of using medical robotics; [22145]

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Jacqui Smith: The application of robotics to diagnosis and clinical care in the national health service, as in other health care systems, is at an early stage. The safety, cost effectiveness and acceptability of robotics in medicine will need to be evaluated by the NHS Technology Assessment programme, the Medical Devices Agency and the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, before large scale introduction.

Betts Way Children's Residential Centre

Mrs. Lait: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment he has made of the NSPCC's report on Betts Way Children's Residential Centre, SE20; and what plans he has to review the law on evidence given by children with severe learning difficulties. [21762]

Jacqui Smith: The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children investigation into allegations of abuse at Betts Way Residential Centre was conducted with the full co-operation of Bromley Social Services Department, the Ravensbourne National Health Service Trust and local police. A copy of the NSPCC's summary report has been made available to departmental officials. In the context of the terms of reference established for this investigation the NSPCC concluded that no young person at the centre could be identified as having suffered significant harm or abuse. The report also found no evidence that there had been, or was, widespread poor practice or that there was a culture of institutionalised risk for services users at Betts Way.

However, the report did recommend a review of policy and practice. Bromley Social Services Department and the other relevant agencies are taking this forward together. The London borough of Bromley has also recently commissioned an independent review of the investigation process to identify what further lessons can be learned from the Betts Way case about conducting investigations of this nature with service users whose needs are complex. Officials from the Department have asked to be kept informed about progress.

Part II of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 sets out a range of special measures to assist vulnerable or intimidated witnesses to give evidence in court. These include the use of video-recorded statements, screens, live TV links, clearing the public gallery and an intermediary to put questions to a witness. The categories of persons eligible to apply for special measures under the first chapter of Part II of the Act are: children under the age of 17; those who suffer from a mental or physical disorder, or have a disability or impairment that is likely to affect their evidence; and those whose evidence is likely to be affected by their fear or distress at giving evidence in the proceedings. The special measures are part of a much larger programme to implement the "Speaking Up For Justice" report, which contains over 70 recommendations designed to encourage and support vulnerable or intimidated witnesses to give their best evidence in criminal proceedings.

The Act also changes the law on competency. It will allow someone who is unable to understand the implications of taking the oath to give unsworn evidence,

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providing that they can understand questions asked of them in court, and can answer in a way that can be understood.

Childhood Obesity

Ms Shipley: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what action his Department is taking to tackle obesity in children; and if he will make a statement. [22111]

Jacqui Smith: We are committed to tackling the current trend of rising obesity among children. The NHS plan makes a commitment to wide-ranging action to improve diet and nutrition, and local action to tackle obesity and physical inactivity, informed by advice from the Health Development Agency on what works.

The National Service Framework for Coronary Heart Disease requires that all national health service bodies will have agreed and be contributing to the delivery of local programmes of effective policies on overweight and obesity and will have quantified data on the programme by April 2002.

There are major programmes of work under way to tackle poor diet and physical inactivity. 80,000 children are now receiving a free piece of fruit every day as part of the national school fruit scheme. We recently announced that the scheme will benefit from an extra £42 million from the New Opportunities Fund and will be extended to cover the whole of the West Midlands region from the summer term 2002—extending its reach to over 250,000 children. In addition, £2 million is being invested in the food in schools programme which brings together under one umbrella all food-related initiatives in schools and after school clubs to improve health and learning.

We are also working across Government to ensure that children have opportunities to participate in a wide range of physical and sporting activities, including high quality physical education and walking and cycling to school. This is backed up by significant investment, including £581 million of New Opportunities Fund money for the physical education and sports programme, which is being used to improve school sports facilities.

Following the publication of the National Audit Office report "Tackling Obesity in England" which was published earlier this year, we are awaiting final recommendations from the Public Accounts Committee. Their conclusions will shape future work in this area.

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