The Right Honourable Dame Ann Elizabeth Oldfield Butler-Sloss, GBE, having been created Baroness Butler-Sloss, of Marsh Green in the County of Devon, for lifeWas, in her robes, introduced between the Lord Woolf and the Lord Carswell.
The Right Reverend Richard Douglas Harries, lately Bishop of Oxford, having been created Baron Harries of Pentregarth, of Ceinewydd in the County of Dyfed, for lifeWas, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Wilson of Tillyorn and the Baroness Neuberger.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My Lords, the department does not collect waiting times for hearing aid fittings. However, since January 2006, waiting time data have been collected for pure tone audiometry diagnostic tests. Those were published for the first time on 12 July. We aim to delivery audiology diagnostic tests within 13 weeks by March 2007 and within six weeks by December 2008.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, nevertheless, will my noble friend confirm that some 30,000 deaf people have had to wait for over a year to get their first hearing test? Would he not agree that the present position of deaf people waiting is very sad? Would he also not agree that services for deaf people have been very slow in coming forth and that they have been excluded from the 18-week waiting-time target for other people? Why should deaf people be discriminated against like this?
Lord Warner: My Lords, as my noble friend knows, we have made a huge investment in these services and are, to some extent, the victims of our success. I acknowledge that there are long waits for audiology services and for assessment for hearing aid fittings. To tackle them, I am pleased to announce today that as part of the second phase of the procurement of diagnostics from the independent sector, I have
25 July 2006 : Column 1642
Lord Marsh: My Lords, does the Minister agree that this issue is not about hearing aids in particular, but goes across the entire National Health Service? To my knowledge, large numbers of people in their 60s are being told that they cannot get a hip replacement because they are too young.
Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, my noble friend knows of my interest as the Minister who took and implemented the decision to phase out the old body-worn Medresco hearing aid while he also was at the former DHSS. Is he, however, aware how deeply anxious hearing-impaired people are to hear today the date of publication of the action plan, heralded as the answer to present discontents? Would it not be deeply unfortunate if Parliament went into Recess without knowing the publication date, or at least a date by which his department expects to be able to publish the plan?
Lord Warner: My Lords, we will publish the national action plan very shortly. In answering the Question, I announced that an additional 300,000 patient pathways a year are being procured from the independent sector, with services starting to come on stream early in 2007. That will be part of the national action plan.
Lord Addington: My Lords, will the Government give us an assurance that, contrary to some of the anecdotal evidence, there will be no shift away from funding audiology services to other parts of the NHS which are suffering from lack of funding?
Lord Warner: My Lords, we have put a lot of additional money into these services and expect the strategic health authorities to continue to provide them at an acceptable level consistent with the national action plan, which we will publish.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, does the Minister believe that, because lack of hearing is not an apparent disability, it tends to be treated as a Cinderella service? I am pleased to hear him announce this extra money. Does that mean that there will be clinics as well as hospitalsthe Question referred just to hospitals? If all the extra resources are to be made available, I presume they will be more widespread than that. Can he confirm that?
Lord Warner: My Lords, we will ensure that, as part of the procurement of diagnostic services from the independent sector, 300,000 new service areas for
25 July 2006 : Column 1643
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I was diagnosed by the Royal National Institute for the Deaf when I paid it a pastoral visit as Secretary of State for Health. I was told, You really are very deaf. I now depend entirely on the hearing aids with which I was able to supply myselfit was before the NHS did digital. I am really impressed by the case made by the Royal National Institute for the Deaf, and I hope that I can get an undertaking from the noble Lord that his department will now discuss fully with that admirable organisation how it intends to implement the announcement he has made today.
Lord Warner: My Lords, we are always in close contact with the RNID, which is an important player in the national action plan. I am very pleased that the noble Lord has received such an excellent service. I am sure that he was always a listening Secretary of State for Health when he was in office.
Lord Warner: My Lords, I think that we could probably go on for quite a long time on this, but what I said, which I repeat, is that we will publish the action plan as quickly as possible. I cannot give the noble Baroness a precise date at this point.
What is their assessment of the impact ofthe reduction in staff at the African clinic at the Central Middlesex Hospital, responsible for gynaecological and antenatal treatment of patients with female genital mutilation.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My Lords, NHS London has informed the department that there will be no reduction of staff at the African Well Womens Clinic at Central Middlesex Hospital. The clinic will continue to run weekly for the same length of time. I am informed that the consultant at the clinic retired on 3 July and has been replaced by another consultant from North West London Hospitals NHS Trust. I am assured that there will be no impact on patients.
Baroness Rendell of Babergh: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very reassuring reply.
25 July 2006 : Column 1644
Lord Warner: My Lords, I am happy to join my noble friend in paying tribute to the work done byMr Harry Gordon before his retirement. I understand from the trust that his replacement will be able to perform all the necessary duties in the light of the assessment of the women who come forward through the clinic. I cannot answer off the top of my head her question about the number of FGM clinics and services across England, but I will certainly make inquiries and write to her.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that people take their young children and young adults back to their country of origin to have this fiendish and horrible female circumcision undertaken? When they come back, they have all sorts of infection problems. Also, when they have babies, they have to be unstitched. It is therefore essential that there are specialised people to perform that procedure.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, giventhe previous three questions, especially concerning numbers, will my noble friend say what education processes are going on in the NHS to discuss the issue with surgeons and the women involved to improve the situation?
Lord Warner: My Lords, we have been working with FORWARD, the Foundation for Women's Health, Research and Development, in this area. We have provided it with funding to make a DVD to educate health professionals and we are working with it on a prevalence study of this condition across the NHS. We will continue to work with it to ensure that health professionals are well informed in this area.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, what work is being done in the community and in schools on this issue, so that the next generation
25 July 2006 : Column 1645
Lord Warner: My Lords, we continue to do that work through FORWARD and PCTs. It is down to the local NHS, which may have populations in its area that are vulnerable to the practice, to ensure thatthere is knowledge and that action can be taken. I understand that the Metropolitan Police are discussing some of these issues and the possible movement of young people overseas who are at risk of having this operation conducted on them.
Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, the Minister mentioned the very important Act of 2003, which made it a crime punishable by imprisonment of up to 14 years to take, or to aid and abet the taking of, girls or women abroad. The problem is very serious, as has been said in the Chamber. What is his department doing to investigate the number of women being taken abroad for this mutilation and to prevent it happening?
Lord Warner: My Lords, it is for the police in these circumstances to conduct any necessary inquiries. That is why I mentioned, in response to an earlier question, that there has been contact between the department and the Metropolitan Police, who wish to make links with other agencies undertaking activity on FGM because they are aware that in the summer young girls are vulnerable to becoming victims in this respect by being flown to countries that practise FGM. We need to work closely with the police and will continue to do so.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, in the first month of the consultation, the Department for Transport received 26 responses by e-mail and 11 written responses. A variety of themes are emerging, including the use of rolling stock, the extent of through trains and service levels.
Lord Clark of Windermere: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is he aware that between six and eight through trains a day service the stations
25 July 2006 : Column 1646
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am aware of my noble friends keen interest in the service in the north-west. Let me emphasise that the intention is to improve the service. We have a very acute bottleneck, which results in poor time-keeping at Birmingham New Street station. The intention is to guarantee an hourly train service and that the timetable will be adhered to rigidly, although I recognise that there is a cost involved in the seven trains to which my noble friend referred. Passengers will change at New Street, but the punctuality of their trains, and therefore an improved service, will be guaranteed.
The Lord Bishop of Peterborough: My Lords, do the franchise conditions protect passengers wishing to travel from smaller country stations, or are the rail companies free to divert services to larger urban stations without restriction?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, consultation is taking place on this franchise. Therefore, final terms will not be prepared for bidders until later this year when the consultation is complete. However, with regard to franchises, rail companies undertake certain levels of service. Any significant departure from the service contained directly in the franchise would be subject to consideration by the Office of Rail Regulation and the department.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, in the Ministers Answer, he said that people would have to change at Birmingham New Street, which is an enormous imposition on passengers. The trains into which they will have to change will be full and they will not get seats. Will the Minister please impress on those drawing up this franchise the need to provide adequate rolling stock and infrastructure on this route? He referred to punctuality, which is improving, but the capacity of the route will not meet the demands envisaged in the next seven years.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord because he has highlighted a further point which I refrained from making due to the already great length of my Answer. Improvement to the service certainly entails within this franchise longer trains, including doubling the length of some trains, to increase capacity. We are aware of the noble Lords point that extra demand on the rail means that trains are crowded. Our intention is to provide regular, punctual services at hourly intervals on a range of routes that go through Birmingham. But the cost involved is the seven through trains, to which my noble friend referred in his Question.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, would this change only serve to accentuate the current shift of passengers from the west coast main line to the east coast main line, as proven by the fact that tens of thousands of passengers from all over Cumbria every year now drive to Darlington to catch a fast train to London?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my noble friend will recognise the significant investment in the west coast main line. That investmentit has taken many years to complete the workpresumes that train services will run at full capacity on the west coast main line. It is for train operating companies to provide the service. There will be enhanced reliability and capacity for one set of trains operating under the new franchise.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, would my noble friend look at the demand and capacity on the west coast main line north of Preston? Given his comments about the shortage of rolling stock around the Birmingham area, will he look at the many hours in the day when trains are going north, and probably south, from Preston to Edinburgh and Glasgow and at the number of passengers on them? Perhaps he will consider reducing that number and allocating the trains to where there is a big demand.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my noble friend will understand that this franchise deals only with trains operated by Virgin on its cross-country franchise and by Central trains. I hear what he says about over-capacity in certain parts of the railway system. Let me make the obvious point: it is not in the interests of train operating companies, which have invested so much in recent years in new rolling stock, to have that rolling stock underused. Although I accept what my noble friend says, because he is very knowledgeable about the railways, the general perspective is that the demand for passenger space, seating and adequate trains is increasing, and we need to invest more.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, the proposal is to remove Glasgow and west central Scotland from the cross-country franchise. At a time when we are trying to reduce domestic air travel,how sensible is it to disconnect half the Scottish population from the rail network to the south-west of England? Does not holiday rail travel in particular thrive because people with baggage can travel without having to change trains?
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|