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Ms Blears: Information on the number of patients receiving treatment in accident and emergency departments is not collected centrally. Quarterly figures for the number of accident and emergency attendances in England for each of the last five years are shown in the table.
|Quarter||Year||Accident and emergency first attendances|
Previous years figures have been adjusted to allow direct comparison with 200102 data.
Common Information Core
Ms Blears [holding answer 6 December 2001]: We have made it mandatory for all health authorities to produce a dental action plan to ensure access to national health service dentistry for everyone within the local community.
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In addition, the development of the new community hospital in Kington will include access to dental services and from the new year dental services will be available to Kington residents, provided from a mobile unit until the new hospital development is complete.
Mr. Burstow: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what guidance he has given to community health councils to assist them in advising self-funders in nursing homes of the decision in Coughlan v. North Devon health authority, C.A. 1999; 
(3) if health authorities pass confidential medical information to social services about potential self-funders before any decision accepted by the patient has been taken to withdraw free continuing care; 
(4) if health authorities obtain the consent in writing of patients to become self-funders before free continuing care as defined by Coughlan v. North Devon health authority is withdrawn; 
(5) if he will list the health authorities which have sought his Department's advice over applications for refunds made by self-funders since the decision in Coughlan v. North Devon health authority, C.A. 1999. 
Jacqui Smith: [holding answer 10 December 2001]: Guidance regarding continuing care "Ex parte Coughlan: Follow up action", Health Service Circular 1999/180: Local Authority Circular (99) 30, was issued on 11 August 1999. Further guidance "Continuing Care: NHS and Local Councils' responsibilities" HSC 2001/015:LAC (2001)18 was issued on 28 June 2001. Guidance on "Free Nursing Care in Nursing Homes" HSC 2001/17: LAC(2001)26 was issued on 25 September 2001. Copies of all sets of guidance were sent routinely to community health councils' chief officers. No other guidance or advice has been has been specifically issued to CHCs.
It is for individual health authorities to ensure that their criteria for continuing national health service health care comply with guidance issued by the Department and to obtain their own legal advice where necessary. Since August 1999, only two health authorities have sought the Department's advice on the issue of 'refunds' for self funders: West Surrey health authority and South Essex health authority.
The determinations of any individual's requirement for continuing NHS health care or free nursing care are made on the basis of an assessment to determine individual needs. The introduction of free nursing care may lead to the identification of individuals with exceptional health needs who may now qualify for continuing NHS health care.
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Health authorities neither obtain consent in writing, nor do they pass confidential medical information to social services before 'withdrawing' continuing care; it is not envisaged, nor has it ever been brought to the Department's attention, that any health authority has behaved in the way described in the two questions. Once provided, continuing health care should continue to be provided unless and until the individual's healthcare needs change.
Ms Blears: The Department has for some time had a flexible working patterns policy and actively encourages and supports its staff and managers to work flexibly. A range of flexible working patterns including part time working, job sharing and home working is available to staff by arrangement with their management.
The Department recognises the advantages that home working offers such as retention of valued and skilled staff who have domestic commitments, and a saving on travelling time and costs, and provides appropriate information technology equipment and a supportive personnel and management structure to enable staff to work from home.
Mr. Hutton: Among the circumstances in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State might consider exercising his powers to change the name of a strategic health authority created under the National Health Service Reform Bill are:
where the name of a coterminous local authority changes; and
at the request of key local stakeholders.
Ms Blears [holding answer 11 December 2001]: Subject to parliamentary approval, the National Health Service Reform and Health Care Profession Bill will enable us to set up a patients forum in every national health service trust and primary care trust as independent statutory bodies. It is expected that the members of the
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forums will be volunteers drawn from patients, carers, and from local voluntary organisations. As members of the patients forums, they will represent the views of local communities to trusts about the quality and configuration of health services; monitor the delivery of services from the patients perspective; and inspect every aspect of NHS care from the perspective of the patients experience of the service.
Voluntary participation in the patients forum is not intended as a means of producing financial savings. The main benefit to the NHS is that local people will be able to make a difference to the services provided and ensure that local services are more responsive to the needs of patients. The volunteers will benefit from knowing that they are making an important and worthwhile contribution to the service; they will also have the opportunity to acquire new skills which may benefit them in their employment or other aspects of their lives.
Jacqui Smith: The Department of Health Vacancy Survey, March 2001, indicated a three month vacancy rate of 3.4 per cent. That equates to 60 vacant posts across the health authority area. We have introduced a number of initiatives to increase the number of nurses in the national health service, most recently funding for additional nurses in accident and emergency.
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