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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Miss Melanie Johnson): The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has recommended that, at the general practitioner's discretion, the main carers for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if the carers fall ill should be offered flu vaccine.
Dr. Starkey: May I draw the Minister's attention to a very successful project undertaken in my constituency by Milton Keynes primary care trust, together with the Milton Keynes carers project? Free flu vaccination is offered to all carers in the area through their GPs. May I draw particular attention to the side effect of that? Many GPs realised for the first time how many of their patients had a caring role, and were able to rethink the way in which they provided services for them throughout the year.
Miss Johnson: I am very pleased that my hon. Friend has drawn my attention to the good practice in her constituency. I should be delighted to receive more details, and I assure her that we will look at what is happening. We are keen to see more take-up, and given that 5.2 million people are involved in caring across the United Kingdom, we are keen for vaccination to be extended to them where that is appropriate.
Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire) (Con): Is the Minister aware of the French Government's contingency plan for an avian flu pandemic? Has she read the plan? If so, she will know that the French Government estimate that in the absence of intervention, between 91,000 and 212,000 deaths could occur in France. On that basis, four months ago the French Government purchased 13 million doses of oseltamivir. Have the Government made any progress in deciding whether they will purchase protection for care workers, health workers and groups at risk in this country in the event of a pandemic?
Mr. Lansley: I am afraid that the Minister's reply is simply not good enough. [Laughter.] It is not. Labour Members should realise that four months ago the French Government purchased[Interruption.] Labour Members should listen to this. In the unhappy event that the avian flu experienced in south Asia continues to be transmitted from human to humanso far there have been two instances of thatthey will need to know the facts.
Antiviral agents have been purchased by the French, Australian, Canadian, United States, Belgian and Dutch Governments, and the German Government are currently negotiating. The Secretary of State nods, but the British Government have not even begun negotiations to purchase oseltamivir as an antiviral agent. As I said, the French Government have purchased 13 million doses.
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The British Government were quick enough to buy smallpox vaccine from PowderJect Pharmaceuticals. When will they take seriously their responsibility both to publish their contingency plan and to take measures to protect against the risk of a pandemic in the next 12 months?
Miss Johnson: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman recognises, as we do, that pandemic flu presents all countries with a major public health challenge. Along with other countries, we are drawing up plans that will be subject to consultation, with the aim of producing a coping strategy should a pandemic occur.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): Departmental and CRB officials have met to discuss delays in processing Protection of Vulnerable Adults First applications, and the Department is monitoring the situation. The CRB's performance continues to improve, and it is currently processing 95.8 per cent. of valid applications within 48 hours, and 99.7 per cent. within 72 hours.
Mr. Stunell: I thank the Minister for that answer, which will be of some comfort to my constituents, who find that there are delays in getting appointments at care homes and with care home managers, who have had grave difficulties in staffing their homes because of the non-availability of those checks. Will he undertake to improve that performance yet more, so that the unacceptable shortfall on achieving the targets can be overcome and the Criminal Records Bureau can deliver the service that my constituents and care home owners and managers need?
Dr. Ladyman: I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that I will do everything I can. He and his constituents should remember that, if it were still necessary for someone to have a complete Criminal Records Bureau check before they could take up work, often they would have to wait up to a month to take an appointment, which would not be acceptable to the sector. By introducing POVA First, we have given a mechanism whereby, theoretically at least, people can start to work within a few days. The advice that he should give his constituents is that, in order to facilitate the process, they should work as hard as they can to ensure that their applications are as accurate as possible. It is only when the accurate application is in that the POVA check can take place.
Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West)
(Lab/Co-op): I welcome the steps that the Minister has taken to protect the vulnerable elderly. Does he agree that much
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elder abuse takes place in the home and that there is a strong case for projects such as that run by Comic Relief to raise public awareness of the problem?
Dr. Ladyman: Elder abuse is horrifying and we need to eliminate itthere is no question about that. I welcome the focus that Comic Relief is putting on the issue. I have had discussions with it about what it is doing. I and the Department are working with it to try to raise the profile of the issue. I believe that there is a play on Thursday evening this week that will highlight the issue even more, but we must remember that there are difficult balances to be struck. When abuse takes place in an individual's home between family members, there is a limit to the extent to which the state can intervene. That is why raising awareness is one of the key things that we must do.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Miss Melanie Johnson): It is the responsibility of primary care trusts to commission health care packages for NHS patients, including the use of complementary and alternative medical treatments.
Mr. Tredinnick: Will the Minister congratulate Hinckley and Bosworth primary care trust on its initiative to look at all aspects of complementary medicine in its health proposals? Is she not way behind what is happening in Wales, where, according to The Western Mail, the Welsh Assembly is issuing leaflets to the whole of the country about how people can access free complementary medicine?
I have given the Minister notice of this question. What does she think about the Get Well UK centre in north London, where it is possible, through contracts with GPs, which it provides, for people to find complementary practitioners who have a stamp of approval and meet the standards required? Has she looked into that initiative?
Miss Johnson: Health matters in Wales are matters for the Welsh Assembly, but I thank the hon. Gentleman for notice of the question in relation to Get Well UK. We understand the benefit that many people get from complementary therapies. Local commissioning is a matter for local discretion, but we can see the benefits to local practices of an intermediary pulling together a range of services in the area for alternative medical treatments. We accept that such developments are positive, and indeed they have been made possible by the fact that we have introduced a more flexible system of providing primary medical services.
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire)
(Con): I had a long-running case where constituents fought continually with doctors to convince them that a simple change of diet would be beneficial in the treatment of their son, who was being given drugs to deal with mental
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health problems after cannabis use. In encouraging PCTs to do more with complementary and alternative therapies, can she also encourage them to recognise more clearly the relationship between diet and behaviour in certain mental health problems?
Miss Johnson: That is a matter not only for the Department but for the relevant professional bodies and the mental health organisations, but I accept the importance of the connections that the hon. Gentleman describes. Indeed, diet and its importance to health is also a central plank of the public health White Paper.
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