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15 Oct 2002 : Column 792W—continued

Devolution

Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health when the EU Standing Committee on zootechnics is next due to meet; whether representatives of the Scottish Executive (a) have been and (b) are members of it; and if he will make a statement. [70565]

Mr. Morley: I have been asked to reply.

The Standing Committee on Zootechnics meets infrequently and we have no information about when the next meeting will be. UK representation varies according to the agenda for each meeting, and may include members of the Scottish Executive and other devolved administrations where there are items of sufficient interest.

Angus Robertson: To ask the Secretary of State for Health when the EU Standing Veterinary Committee is next due to meet; whether representatives of the Scottish Executive (a) have been and (b) are members of it; and if he will make a statement. [70564]

Mr. Morley: I have been asked to reply.

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The Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (formerly the Standing Veterinary Committee) generally meets twice a month to discuss public health or animal health matters. The next meeting is due to take place on 8/9 October 2002. UK veterinary representation varies according to the agenda for each meeting, and may include members of the Scottish Executive and other devolved administrations where there are items of sufficient interest.

Beta Interferon

Mr. Flook: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what progress is being made in making beta interferon available for MS sufferers by (a) primary care trusts and (b) hospital trusts serving (i) West Somerset and (ii) Taunton Deane. [73269]

Ms Blears: Beta interferon and glatiramer acetate are available on the National Health Service for the treatment of people with multiple sclerosis (MS) under the ''risk-sharing scheme''. The scheme, which came into operation on 6 May 2002, allows such treatments to be prescribed on the NHS to patients who meet the criteria set out by the Association of British Neurologists. All pharmaceutical companies involved have agreed terms for the supply of their products under the scheme. Patients will be monitored to confirm whether the drugs are working and costs to the NHS will reduce if patients do not benefit as expected.

Currently, approximately 51 patients from Somerset are receiving treatment. The local primary care trusts are in discussion to arrange funding for an MS nurse beyond the period provided for by the pharmaceutical industry.

Bob Spink: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what appeal procedures are in place to enable MS patients who have been denied a place on the beta interferon pilot to challenge that decision; [73511]

Mr. Lammy: If a clinician has decided that a patient should not receive treatment under the risk-sharing scheme, and that patient is dissatisfied with the decision, we expect the patient would be offered a second opinion from another clinician.

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The risk-sharing scheme is subject to the usual arrangements for clinical governance and audit adopted within the National Health Service. It is the role of the strategic health authority to ensure that policy is delivered appropriately in its area. Each neurology centre submits data to the scheme co-ordinator, Sheffield University's School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR).

Primary care trusts and strategic health authorities are not expected to report routinely to the Department, though we have, in this instance, requested reports on progress. We understand that, in most areas if treatment is not already being initiated, it will start over the autumn.

We understand that 139 Essex patients were being treated prior to the inception of the scheme and that 19 patients have been initiated on treatment since May.

Frozen Embryo Bank

Mr. Amess: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what mechanisms are in place for the management and independent inspection of the Frozen Embryo bank; and how many mismatches have been (a) claimed and (b) verified in the last year. [74761]

Ms Blears: Frozen embryos are stored in centres licensed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). Storage must be in accordance with the conditions of the licence, which include compliance with the HFEA's code of practice. The code of practice is regularly reviewed and laid before Parliament. The HFEA carries out a full inspection of each centre before a licence is given and every three years thereafter. In the interval there are annual inspections of specific aspects of the centre's work. A case involving alleged irregularities in frozen embryo storage is currently subject to court proceedings.

Blood Products

Mr. Amess: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will provide funding to allow all NHS patients to access virus-inactivated plasma; and if he will make a statement. [74060]

Ms Blears: Plasma used for the production of blood products is virus inactivated and is already sourced from United States donors as a precaution against the theoretical risk of vCJD.

An announcement was made on 15 August 2002 that fresh frozen plasma (FFP) will be obtained from the United States for new born babies and children born after 1 January 1996. This measure is designed to protect the most vulnerable group who will not have been exposed to BSE through foodstuffs. The United States FFP will be subject to treatment with methylene blue to reduce the risk of transmission of blood borne viruses.

The Government expert advisory committee on the microbiological safety of blood and tissue for transplantation is continuing to keep this issue under review and there are currently no plans to allocate further funding.

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Mr. Amess: To ask the Secretary of State for Health for what reason the Government did not decide in 1998 to stop the use in transfusions of fresh frozen plasma derived from UK donors; and if he will make a statement. [74061]

Ms Blears: The Government expert advisory committee on the microbiological safety of blood and tissues for transplantation did consider the importation of fresh frozen plasma (FFP) in 1998. The National Blood Service advised that sustainable supplies of imported plasma for FFP could not be obtained for the large number of patients every year who required it.

Sandra Gidley: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if she will apply the obligatory safety monitoring and other patient safeguards which are standard for licensed pharmaceutical products to fresh frozen plasma and methylene blue-treated fresh frozen plasma. [74204]

Ms Blears: The Medicines Control Agency already ensures that the United Kingdom's blood services meet European good manufacturing practice standards. In addition, the new European Blood Directive will, when adopted, require the accreditation of all blood establishments to ensure common standards of safety and quality in blood and blood components across all Members States and the reporting of serious adverse reactions attributable to the safety and quality of blood and blood components.

The UK serious hazards of transfusion (SHOT) reporting system has had safety monitoring of fresh frozen plasma (FFP) and methylene blue treated FFP in place for five years. Although SHOT is a voluntary scheme the level of reporting compares favourably with reporting of suspected adverse drug reactions associated with licensed pharmaceuticals. Ninety two per cent. of hospitals in the UK already participate in SHOT and recent guidance to the National Health Service on the appropriate use of blood asks all hospitals to ensure participation www.doh.gov.uk/publications/coinh.html. SHOT publishes an annual report, and a copy of the most recent, for 2000–2001, has been placed in the Library.

The National Blood Service is developing a new patient information leaflet for all patients who will undergo a transfusion with blood or blood components.

Sandra Gidley: To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he will announce his decision regarding the funding for the provision of non-UK plasma; and if he will make a statement. [74205]

Ms Blears: Plasma used for the production of blood products is already sourced from United States donors as a precaution against the theoretical risk of vCJD.

An announcement was made on 15 August 2002 that fresh frozen plasma (FFP) will be obtained from the United States for new born babies and children born after 1 January 1996. This measure is designed to protect the most vulnerable group who will not have been exposed to BSE through foodstuffs.

The Government expert advisory committee on the microbiological safety of blood and tissue for transplantation is continuing to keep this issue under review.

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Jane Griffiths: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what measures are in place to prevent the transmissions of West Nile Fever in blood purchased from the United States for use in the UK. [74756]

Ms Blears: Plasma is currently imported from the United States for the production of plasma products, as a precaution against the theoretical risk of vCJD transmission. Viral inactivation of these products is carried out as a safety measure to remove the risk to patients of transfusion transmittable viruses, including West Nile fever virus, should it be present. The decision to import plasma for babies and young children born after 1 January 1996 from the United States was recently announced. This plasma will also undergo viral inactivation.

Mr. Havard: To ask the Secretary of State for Health for what reason methylene blue-treated fresh frozen plasma is being advocated for use in children and others by the National Blood Service; and what assessment he has made of its safety. [73932]

Ms Blears: As an added precaution against the theoretical risk of vCJD transmission, the Government's expert advisory committee on the microbiological safety of blood and tissues for transplantation (MSBT) has recommended importing single unit fresh frozen plasma (FFP) from the United States. On 15 August 2002 the Government announced that imported FFP would be used for new-born babies and young children born after 1 January 1996.

On the advice of MSBT, US sourced FFP will be virally inactivated using methylene blue (MB) treatment. MB has been administered in medical practice since 1900, and in much larger doses, many thousand-fold, than the National Blood Service (NBS) will be using. NBS will be removing more than 90 per cent. of MB before the FFP is issued to National Health Service hospitals. MB is a registered medical device under the Medical Devices Directive and has a European safety (CE) marking.


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