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NHS Direct

Mr. Burns: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what the average length of call to NHS Direct is over the last 12 months. [46700]

Ms Blears [holding answer 10 April 2002]: It is not currently possible to provide information on what the average length of call to NHS Direct is. NHS Direct measures the performance of its sites in progressing calls received in terms of the time taken for callers to be able to speak to a nurse. The target is that 90 per cent. of callers should speak to a nurse within five minutes.

Hepatitis C

Tim Loughton: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what analysis his Department has made of the most common ways of contracting hepatitis C. [53278]

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Yvette Cooper [holding answer 29 April 2002]: Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that is transmitted mainly through direct blood to blood contact. Currently the greatest risk of acquiring hepatitis C infection in the UK is through the sharing of blood contaminated needles and injecting equipment among injecting drug users.

Previously transmission occurred through transfusion of contaminated blood or blood products before the introduction of donor screening and of viral inactivation of plasma products.

Health care and laboratory workers are at risk of infection by occupational exposure to the blood of infected patients. Infection may be passed from mother to baby and by sexual intercourse but these are generally considered to be less efficient modes of transmission. Tattooing and other forms of skin piercing also present a risk of infection if sterile equipment is not used.

Tim Loughton: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what treatments are available for hepatitis C in the NHS; and how many (a) men and (b) women are receiving treatment for this condition; [53284]

Yvette Cooper [holding answer 29 April 2002]: The Department does not hold information centrally on the number of patients who have or who are receiving treatment for hepatitis C infection. In October 2000, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) issued guidance to the national health service on the use of Ribavirin and Interferon Alpha in the treatment of hepatitis C. Health authorities and primary care trusts are under a statutory obligation set out in directions, which came into force on 1 January 2002, to provide appropriate funding for treatments recommended by NICE.

The Department will be considering the need to issue guidance to primary care trusts on the prevention of hepatitis C following consultation on a strategy for hepatitis C later this year, and as part of the action plans set out in the strategy on infectious diseases, "Getting Ahead of the Curve".

Tim Loughton: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) when he expects the expert steering group on hepatitis C set up in 2001 to produce its findings; [53286]

Yvette Cooper [holding answer 29 April 2002]: We set up a steering group last year to provide advice on a strategic approach to hepatitis C by bringing together issues relating to prevention, control and treatment. We expect to consult on a strategy for hepatitis C during the summer, which will take account of advice from the steering group.

Delegated Legislation

Mr. Bercow: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment he has made of the cost-effectiveness

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of the Miscellaneous Food Additives (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2001; and if he will make a statement. [53830]

Ms Blears: Costs associated with regulatory proposals are considered at the policy development stage. A

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regulatory impact assessment (RIA) is completed for regulatory proposals unless there are no or negligible costs, and sets out the impact, in terms of costs, benefits and risks of the proposed regulation which could affect businesses, charities or the voluntary sector. RIAs are available from the Library.