HC Deb 09 December 1963 vol 686 cc5-6
7. Mr. Taverne

asked the Minister of Health how many trained cytologists are at present working in England and Wales on examination of cervical smears; and what plans he has for increasing their number.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Anthony Barber)

There are no separate figures; the work is done at hospital laboratories throughout the country; I would refer the hon. Member to my reply of 2nd December to the hon. Member for Middles rough, West (Mr. Bray), about expansion both of the services and of training arrangements.

Mr. Taverne

Will the Minister consider an article which recently appeared in which the figure of 30 to 40 was given? Will he explain how this was calculated at the time? On the second part of his Answer, is the Minister's aim that eventually screening should be offered to all women in the age group at risk? His answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Mr. Bray) seemed to be slightly different from the answer given by his predecessor. If that is his aim, when does he hope that it will be accomplished?

Mr. Barber

I certainly accept the principle of routine screening for all women at risk, but of course we cannot achieve this all at once. What we must do is expand the services as quickly as the expansion of trained staff and the resources of the boards will permit. Additional funds are being provided on the approval of schemes for the setting up and running of the special training centres, and once they are set up I hope that the number of experienced staff required will be provided by these and other means within about two years.

Mr. K. Robinson

The Minister's supplementary answer is very welcome. Does he say that it is only a shortage of trained cytologists which stands in the way of developing this into a routine system? If that is the case, what consideration has his Department given to the experimental trial of the machine testing of smears, which I understand has been carried out with some fairly promising results in the London Hospitals?

Mr. Barber

I should like to look into the latter question. Answering the first part of the question, it is for each hospital board to decide the degree of priority it can give to cytological facilities, and we have made it clear to them that the Ministry of Health thinks that they should treat these services not only as important but as deserving of special consideration. I think that the hon. Member is right in his supposition that the main trouble at present is the lack of trained cytologists and technicians.