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15 Oct 2002 : Column 822Wcontinued
Matthew Taylor: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will place in the Library the data underlying his Department's value for money scores in relation to the 1998 public service agreements; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Lammy: The published measure for the 1998 public service agreement's targets on the efficiency and value for money of Departmental operations was that business plan objectives would be achieved within the running costs limits set by the Comprehensive Spending Review. Running cost plans and outturn against them where available have been published in the Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses (PESA) for the years 19992000 to 200203, copies of which are available in the Library. The statistics demonstrate that the Department is on track to meet the targets.
Mr. Gareth Thomas: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what further action he is taking to improve the quality of, and reduce waiting times in, accident and emergency services at Northwich Park Hospital. 
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Mr. Hutton: Improving patients' experience of emergency care is essential. In light of this, reforming emergency care was launched in October 2001 supported by #118 million investment. It sets a long-term programme of reform supported by extra investment and new capacity to address one of the public's key concerns about the National Health Servicewaiting in Accident & Emergency.
Concerted action is being taken to further improve the quality of and waiting times in Northwick Park A&E. The A&E department is now receiving targeted support through the Modernisation Agency's intensive support team (IST).
Action already taken to improve the way emergency admissions are managed, including an increase in capacity of 21 beds has already drastically reduced very long waits for beds over the last six months. In addition NUCare, which is an innovative joint scheme run by the trust and local primary care trust, is speeding up care for patients with less serious illness or injuries by bringing GPs and community services into A&E.
Over seven out of ten patients now spend less than four hours in total in the A&E. There is still a long way to go and no room for complacency but the combination of local action by the trust and its health community with the support of the IST is laying the ground work for real improvements to the patient experience.
Ms Walley: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on (a) funding and (b) progress with medical research into fluoridation and (i) cancer rates and (ii) hip fractures. 
Ms Blears: The report, published on 4 September, of an expert working group set up by the Medical Research Council (MRC) at the request of the Department concluded that there was no firm evidence linking water fluoridation to cancer or to hip fractures. But the group recommended that a comparison be made between the amount of fluoride that the body absorbs from water supplies in which it occurs naturally and those to which it has been added artificially.
We are, therefore, taking immediate steps to commission a project on the absorption of fluoride. The Department is finalising the specification for a research project to compare the body's absorption of naturally occurring and artificially added fluoride, and will shortly be inviting tenders. The MRC group concluded that if new studies show that the uptake of fluoride from artificially fluoridated water is substantially higher than from naturally fluoridated water, then further investigation of the long term effects of fluoridation on hip fractures will be needed.
The group also recommended that an updated analysis be made of the data on fluoridation and cancer rates, and suggested that any new studies on the causes of bone cancer could easily include an assessment of exposure to fluoride. The Chief Medical Officer and the Chief Dental Officer will be advising on the action we should take on this and the remaining recommendations in the MRC group's report.
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Mr. Lammy: We are committed to tackling the serious problem of antimicrobial resistance. In 2000, we published the UK Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy and Action Plan which identified three key areas for tackling antimicrobial resistance; surveillance of antimicrobial resistant organisms and use of antimicrobials, promoting prudent antimicrobial use and infection control to contain and prevent the spread of antimicrobial resistant organisms.
More recently, the Chief Medical Officer's infectious disease strategy, published in January 2002, has identified antimicrobial resistance as a priority area for intensified action and a targeted action plan is being developed to build on the existing UK strategy. The new targeted action plan will take into account the views from a range of stakeholders including priorities identified by the recently constituted specialist advisory committee on antimicrobial resistance.
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Mr. Lammy: People with asthma are entitled to free National Health Service prescriptions if they are under 16 (or under 19 if in full-time education); aged 60 or over; hold a maternity or medical exemption certificate; receive income support or income based jobseekers allowance, are named on a tax credit NHS exemption certificate; or hold an NHS low income scheme exemption certificate for full help.
Jacqui Smith: The information requested is not collected centrally. However tables showing the number of hospital episodes by age where the primary diagnosis is asthma have been placed in the Library. The International Classification of Disease 10 codes J45J46 have been used. The data is for 199697 to 200001.
Mr. Wray: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what funding has gone into research into the causes of asthma; and how much has been allocated to financing drug treatment in each of the last five years. 
Jacqui Smith: The main Government agency for research into the cause and treatments of disease is the Medical Research Council (MRC) which receives its funding via the Department of Trade and Industry. Asthma is a priority area for the MRC. It supports a wide range of research projects looking at asthma ranging from basic research to applied clinical studies. The MRC spend in the area in 200001 was approximately #3 million.
The Department funds research to support policy and the delivery of effective practice in the National Health Service. The Department of Health also provides NHS support funding for research commissioned by the research councils and charities that takes place in the NHS. The Department spend on directly commissioned research projects on asthma since 1997 is an estimated #7.24 million.
Health authorities (HAs) and primary care trusts (PCTs) receive funding to spend each financial year but the Department does not specify how much of that should be spent on the drugs bill, nor how much should be spent on individual drugs such as for asthma. However, guidance is set and sent out to all HAs and PCTs advising what monies should be set aside for prescribing budgets, what level of growth should be assumed, and what factors should influence their budget setting process.
Jacqui Smith: The Department has recently provided the National Asthma Campaign (NAC) with a section 64 grant to assist the funding of a telephone help-line. This enabled the NAC to both help asthma sufferers and their families as well as raising awareness of the condition.
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The Department is currently arranging a series of discussions between the NAC, the British Thoracic Society and the British Lung Foundation with various sections of the Department and the Modernisation Agency to help shape initiatives in progress within the Department.
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