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Lord Higgins: My Lords, there is a need for greater co-ordination. But, having been the Member of Parliament for the constituency with the oldest population in the country, I may perhaps have some understanding of the needs of older people, which is a matter mentioned in the report. Is it not the case—and does not the Minister's rather obvious embarrassment about the sycophantic nature of this report reflect the fact—that many older pensioners really do not want to be patronised? The idea of a Cabinet Champion for Older People and reports which bear titles such as Winning the Generation Game are likely to be mixed with a reaction veering from cynicism to nausea.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, as one old person to another, in a House with quite a number of older people, I have some sympathy with that. Nevertheless, it is a fact that a large number of departments provide services for older people. It is necessary that someone should get a grip on it all. It is

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necessary to have a Cabinet committee, not for the sake of holding more committee meetings, but so that each department is signed up to the work done by the lead department, which is the Department for Work and Pensions.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that with rapidly improving medical standards, growing standards of living and so forth, older people are rapidly becoming younger people?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, yes, I think so. It is certainly true that there are more older people than people under 16 in this country for the first time in history.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the ageing of society generally and the huge increase in longevity, which is somewhat different, means that this is a global as well as a national issue? Should the Government really take not only a wider and better co-ordinated view of policy, but also a longer-term policy, perhaps by renaming the Cabinet sub-committee "Ageing: older people and longevity", because forward planning is of extreme importance and should be long term?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, certainly, it is an international issue. I would not call it an international problem. Of course, as people get older—as the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, rightly said—their capacities survive for longer. Therefore, it is possible that people could work longer if they wanted. Many of us are rather in favour of that. So it is not a problem internationally; it is increasing the number of people who have a full working life and then the number of people who have an opportunity to enjoy it afterwards.

Baroness Barker: My Lords, I declare an interest as an employee of Age Concern England. Does the Minister accept the criticism in the report that the national service framework for older people is the only one that has been introduced without any funding? Will there be further research to measure whether the co-ordination at national level is reflected locally; and whether that has resulted in real outputs for older people or whether it has just been a series of yet more short-term initiatives?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we have accepted all the recommendations. I cannot find that particular one in the list, so I think that I can give the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, the assurance she seeks. Of course, an important issue is contact with older people when they want to be contacted and only when they want to be contacted. That is a local issue, as she rightly says.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, can the Minister respond in particular with regard to those elderly who become frail? I am not talking about the vast majority of us who are lucky enough to enjoy good health. I

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believe that one of the big problems that still exists is in the tie-up between home care and health and hospitals. Locally as well as nationally, there is still grave concern in ensuring that the services needed by a person returning home from hospital are co-ordinated properly. It is an area that needs addressing.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Indeed, my Lords. The House has spent many happy hours debating the subject on the Community Care (Delayed Discharges etc.) Bill. I am pleased to record that at the conclusion of that debate there seemed to be a much greater degree of agreement around the Chamber about the Bill than there had been at the beginning. I think that shows the Government's recognition of and concern about this problem.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, will have noticed that in yesterday's Budget the Chancellor announced that there would be no removal of the basic state pension for pensioners who are in hospital for up to 52 weeks, which will undoubtedly help.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, has my noble friend consulted the Prime Minister on this issue, who, according to SAGA magazine, next month officially becomes old?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, if the Prime Minister thinks that 50 is old, then he expects less of himself than the rest of us. We think that the Prime Minister will go on in his prime for a very long time.


11.16 a.m.

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What advice they are issuing and what measures they are taking to contain the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the Department of Health issued information and advice to all general practitioners, trusts and public health professionals on Thursday 13th March and Monday 7th April. The department also issued advice to the public and travellers to south east Asia about SARS. As a result of this timely response, to date we have had only five probable cases of SARS in the UK against a total of 2,722 in 16 other countries. The Department of Health and the Health Protection Agency continue to monitor the situation.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, in thanking the Minister for that Answer, might I ask for her assessment of reports in today's newspapers that the Government of China have concealed the extent of the spread of SARS in China, and, indeed, the evidence given to a select committee of the Senate on Monday by the World Health Organisation that the outbreak might have been curbed much more quickly

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had they acted earlier? Are the Government any nearer to identifying the nature of the virus; what is the latest science on the spread of the virus; are they giving any consideration, as in America, to the quarantine issue; and, on the issue of health workers, given the large number who have died in Hong Kong, have they given advice to health workers in this country?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I shall answer what I think are the two most critical questions here—first, the attitude of the Chinese Government to the spread of the disease; and, secondly, what the research tells us. The Chinese Government came under some strong criticism from the WHO but are now co-operating. An expert WHO team has visited Beijing and Guandong to conduct research. We expect a report from it. It has met the officials, the researchers, and so on, who are involved. The Chinese ministry of health has introduced tighter controls and procedures now in order to control the outbreak. There is a central task force being set up to monitor it. Obviously, we still maintain our advice to travellers that they should not travel to the two areas of Hong Kong and Guandong if at all possible.

On our current information about research, the WHO has co-ordinated research across the world in public health laboratories, including our own very expert Central Public Health Laboratory at Colindale. It suggests that the SARS associated coronavirus is probably the major cause, but that there are other infections which may play a part. These discoveries are very positive. We are proud that our own public health laboratory has played a key role. This will now enable work to be developed on tests to detect the presence of the viruses in patients. So we are now at the next stage where we can begin to develop the diagnostic tests which will help us to determine the actual SARS virus itself.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, can the Minister recall that she set out very clearly, at col. 643 of the Official Report of 25th March the detailed reply about how people were informed? I understand that that is working very well. But is she aware that air flights are one of the major forms of transmission of this disease? Through the World Health Organisation, can we ask airlines to ensure better recirculation and filtration of air because any infection is transmitted very easily in this way?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, perhaps I may first address the question of transmission. As far as we know, the disease is transmitted by coughing and sneezing. I take the point about recirculation. The WHO has issued guidance to reinforce general procedures; it has not addressed that issue to date. On the question of people entering the country, environmental health officials are boarding incoming aircraft from infected areas at Heathrow on a random basis to check with cabin crew whether they are aware of anyone who may present

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symptoms of SARS. We hope that that will work well. We are also in the process of issuing leaflets that will be available at ports of entry.

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