Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the Airedale Allergy Centre is a privately funded establishment. The future of the centre therefore must be a decision for the centre itself. The Government, for their part, are looking at ways of improving and extending services at the 80 or so allergy clinics within the National Health Service and are also considering the recognition of allergy as a specialty in its own right.
Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. However, is he aware that the incidence of multiple chemical sensitivity, indeed allergy in general, is on the increase? The Airedale Centre is the first purpose-built environmentally controlled unit in the country, and probably in the world, where severely ill patients can be properly diagnosed and treated. Does the noble Lord agree that it would be a tragedy for this developing area of medicine if the funding problems associated with the changeover from the old system of extra-contractual referrals meant that this unique facility was lost, as indeed seems likely?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the NHS has the ability to refer patients to such a centre. If patients are not being so referred at present it suggests that the health authorities and primary care groups concerned believe that there are effective alternatives within the NHS. I also understand that a factor in the funding of the centre is the attitude of private insurers who refuse to cover patients with chronic illness. At the end of the day, this is not an NHS clinic; it is a private clinic. It is not the responsibility of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State or the National Health Service. Its future has to be in its own hands.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the possible impending closure is largely the result of uncertainty about the new system of out-of-area treatments? What assurance can he give that other specialist centres will not be affected by the new system?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I do not follow the logic of the noble Lord's question. The Government have moved to replace the unsatisfactory use of extra-contractual referrals by the previous administration which proved very costly and bureaucratic. Most ECRs
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that it may not necessarily be the fact that there are other provisions within a health authority area which prevent health authorities from funding patients to the Airedale clinic, or to Breakespear hospital, which practises a similar type of medicine, but the fact that it is said that the effectiveness of such medicine is not clinically proven? Does the noble Lord accept that medicine is not a static science--or art, whichever way you look at it? Might it not help if minds were opened a little to the fact that many patients who have gone through the mill of National Health Service treatments for 15 or 20 years finally achieve beneficial results from treatment in those centres?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I certainly agree that medical science is a very fast-moving art. Indeed, that is why the health service is spending so much energy in trying to ensure that its commissioning decisions are based on the most effective medical evidence available. That is the whole purpose of the new arrangements that we have introduced. It is why health authorities and primary care groups are having to work closely together to develop health improvement programmes, so that the referral patterns and commissioning decisions are based on the most up-to-date medical advice.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I found disturbing the reference of the Deputy Chief Whip to "this side", implying that these Benches are counted with the Liberals and that Cross-Benchers are counted with the Government.
The Minister said that it had been possible to have extra-contractual referrals to this centre. Can he assure me that the present situation arises because there are alternative facilities, or is it the case that the primary care
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I cannot comment on the individual referrals that may have been made to this centre. However, I believe that impressive progress has been made up and down the country in developing primary care groups and ensuring that they are operating effectively. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. I believe that over the next few months we shall see primary care groups working together with health authorities and individual clinicians, and ensuring that the services they commission are focused on improving the health of people in their districts.
The Earl of Clanwilliam: My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that those who attend the Airedale clinic are people whom the National Health Service, drug-based modern science or whatever it may be, have failed, and that therefore the Government have a duty to support those who attend the Airedale clinic?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I must stress that the Airedale Allergy Centre is not an NHS facility and therefore the NHS does not have a responsibility towards it. The purpose and responsibility of primary care groups and health authorities is to make decisions based on the best clinical advice available, and that is what they do.
Viscount Addison: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the aim is to enhance our environment? Does he further agree that there is a connection between the environment and allergies? Should the Government therefore not be putting more effort into supporting this kind of initiative?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I believe it is accepted that allergic illnesses are caused by many factors, one of which, it is argued, is the environment. I agree that we should encourage research into this and other areas. However, that does not take away from the basic premise that this centre is in the private sector and is not the responsibility of the NHS, and that referrals to it can be made by the NHS but have to be made on the basis of the best clinical evidence available.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|