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House of Lords

Wednesday, 27th January 1999.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Lincoln.

Complementary Therapy: Funding

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their view of the recent reductions in funding for complementary medical treatment on the part of health authorities.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, the Government recognise that many people find complementary therapy helpful in treating or alleviating various conditions and that it is being increasingly used in the NHS. There will always be changes in the pattern of local health care provision, but the evidence we have does not indicate that there have been any large-scale cuts in the funding of complementary medicine by health authorities this year. However, we shall be studying the use that the new primary care groups will be making of complementary medicine from April onwards.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. Nevertheless will she not accept that for many people working in the field there appears to be a pattern of reductions in funding, as I suggested to her predecessor at the Dispatch Box last June when I asked why the Homerton Hospital had closed down what had been shown to be a successful acupuncture service? Is she aware, for example, that in the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Health Authority a group of patients is being denied further treatment at the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital when the treatment had been shown to be helpful to them after conventional treatment was unsuccessful?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, yes, I am aware of the decision taken by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Health Authority to cancel its contract with the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital. It is the responsibility of health authorities locally to assess health needs and to ensure that they are met for the local population. However, we believe that once a patient has started a course of NHS treatment the expectation is that that course will be completed unless there are clinical reasons to stop. We have no evidence of widespread cutbacks, but we shall be looking at the development of primary care groups.

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Perhaps while I am on my feet I may, with the leave of the House, offer congratulations from all sides to the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition on becoming a father again today.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, in the light of the report from the Foundation for Integrated Medicine published a year ago and the growing popularity of complementary medicine, will the Minister agree that there is a strong case to be made for the Department of Health to issue guidelines on complementary medicine? Furthermore, is there not a good case for the new National Institute of Clinical Excellence also to be involved in the process?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, it is important that we work with the foundation, as the department is doing, in its programme of research in this area. Guidelines can be of enormous help to commissioning groups. It is important that, whether through the National Institute for Clinical Excellence or elsewhere, we have evidence on which to ensure that sound purchasing decisions are made. I understand that the work being undertaken jointly with the department at Exeter is in its early stages, but before too long it may well lead to the development of the guidelines to which the noble Lord referred.

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the enormous public interest in complementary medicine? Is she also aware of the desire of people to be reassured that complementary techniques are both safe and effective; that practitioners are responsible and reputable; and that if something goes wrong there are proper systems for redress? Are the Government planning any system of regulation for complementary medicine practitioners?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point. The route of self-regulation has been led by the osteopaths and chiropractors, but other professions may be interested in gaining statutory recognition, including the complementary medicines profession, thereby giving the public reassurance, to which my noble friend referred. I hope that the powers which we shall seek in the NHS Bill to enable us to break the current log-jam of legislative proposals from the professions for enhancing self-regulation may well give an opportunity to recognise emerging professional groups.

Lord Clark of Kempston: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the funding of the National Health Service is improved and helped by the instigation of private insurance for medical treatment? Does she further agree that the last change in the arrangements for paying for private medical insurance was a mistake?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the noble Lord's question is wide of that on the Order Paper, but I am happy to answer it. No, I do not agree with him.

Lord Thurlow: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, in addition to the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Health

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Authority, 10 others have withdrawn or blocked their funding of homoeopathic medicine? While I am much reassured about her comments on forthcoming consideration and the prospect of guidelines, can she do anything to help to relieve the present problems?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, a wide range of complementary medicines is increasingly being used within the NHS. A study in 1997 by Sheffield University showed that 40 per cent. of general practitioners provided NHS patients with access to complementary medicines. However, it is important that at local level--whether it be primary care groups or health authorities--local decision-making should reflect the priorities of local people in the provision of services.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the protracted correspondence that I had with her predecessor in the previous government and with the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, in this Government about the provision of environmental medicine? Is she aware that some health authorities allow treatment by environmental medicine but others do not. Some are withdrawing funding in the middle of a schedule of treatment. Will she please comment on that?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I shall certainly investigate the instances to which the noble Countess referred. As I said earlier, we do not believe that it is proper to withdraw treatment in the midst of a course. If that is happening, I shall certainly undertake to investigate it.

International Criminal Court

2.45 p.m.

Lord Archer of Sandwell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to ratify the statute of the International Criminal Court.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, we intend to be among the first 60 states to ratify the court's statute. We shall introduce the necessary legislation as soon as the parliamentary timetable allows.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that half loaf. Does she agree that when we have an effective jurisdiction which reflects the collective conscience of the international community we shall be spared those repeated arguments about extradition? Since the Government greatly augmented the respect in which they are held by the lead they gave in the negotiations leading to the statute, would it not be a pity to appear now to have lost a sense of urgency?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government have not lost any sense of

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urgency. I remind my noble and learned friend that the Bill will be a substantial and complex piece of legislation. It must be properly prepared. It would be quite wrong to rush it. My noble and learned friend is right. The United Kingdom Government played a prominent role in negotiating the statute. We are extremely anxious to be among the founder members of the court. I hope that it will resolve extradition issues and, indeed, other issues which cause so much difficulty at present.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that although it may be a complex piece of legislation, it will receive the support of all sides of the House and will therefore pass very quickly into law? Does she not agree also that the quicker we have in place national procedures, the more likely we are to avoid the time, expense and embarrassment which have afflicted us recently?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, we greatly welcome the cross-party support for the court. As I hope I have made abundantly clear, we wish to see early ratification of the statute. We were extremely pleased about the support we received from the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place. However, I should say to the noble Lord that the Bill must include a great number of provisions; for example, provisions for co-operation by law enforcement and other authorities with the court on a wide range of matters. It is already an issue for consultation among officials and among Ministers. Therefore, work is under way on the legislation.

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