HC Deb 05 August 1975 vol 897 cc215-6
9. Miss Fookes

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she will institute a high-level inquiry into the possibility of extending the scope of preventive medicine.

Dr. Owen

I have already announced in my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) on 30th June—[Vol. 894, c. 277–8.]—the Government's intention to issue a consultative document on preventive medicine either at the end of this year or the beginning of next year. The Government consider that this is the best way to advance this very important subject.

Miss Fookes

Would it not be helpful to gather people together to discuss this? It seems to me that we have in the past paid too little attention to the old adage about prevention being better than cure.

Dr. Owen

I agree that we pay too much lip service to preventive medicine. This will be the first document put forward. It will be for consultation. When it is published, the idea of bringing together people to discuss it is one which I shall want to consider.

Mr. Ronald Atkins

Is my hon. Friend aware that I support the request of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) for an inquiry? In view of the fact that so little is spent on preventing illness and so much on curing it, this is vitally necessary. If my hon. Friend agrees to an inquiry, will he include in its terms of reference the effects of such things as pollution, food additives and various other causes of so much illness?

Dr. Owen

Many of the facts are well known, and if there is any responsibility for the lack of action on preventive medicine it probably lies in this House. There has been a marked reluctance on the part of successive Governments to tackle the problem. We shall bring forward evidence of many aspects, and I hope that it will be possible to debate it. However, that will be a matter for my right hon. Friend.

Sir David Renton

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there are scores of known causes of mental handicap but that very few ways are known of preventing those causes? Will his consultative document deal fully with the prevention of mental handicap?

Dr. Owen

I am sure that it will cover screening. It is a very complex subject, and the document could be very large. It will tend to concentrate on the main areas and perhaps later go into detail on the area in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is interested. This is an important area, and there have been some recent advances. But progress is slow, although I am hopeful for the future.

Mr. Carter-Jones

On the subject of preventive medicine, is my hon. Friend aware that the early introduction of good rehabilitative services can be of assistance in prevention?

Dr. Owen

This is an important aspect. Much of it is related to our concept of community care and involves close association between health services and local authorities. My right hon. Friend and I have made it clear repeatedly that it is impossible to look at the nation's health without looking at the National Health Service and the personal social services together.