§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. David Mellor)
I refer the hon. Gentleman to replies given on 2 March 1990 to previous questions tabled by him. I have nothing to add to those answers.
§ Mr. Alton
After the sad death of one of my constituents from hepatitis B, does the Minister agree that now is the time to start collecting statistics from our prisons to establish the high incidence of hepatitis B among the prison population generally? Does he accept that as the disease is 100 times more virulent than HIV and as immunisation is available by vaccine, we should take urgent action to vaccinate prisoners and staff against it and to collect reliable statistics?
§ Mr. Mellor
I am aware of the sad case to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I should welcome the opportunity to discuss the matter with him at greater length, if he cares to come to see me. We take the most careful medical advice from the prison medical service and act on its advice in any cases where, for instance, it advises vaccination either of staff or of prisoners, if a vaccine is available. I shall be only too happy to discuss all the details of the matter with the hon. Gentleman. He is right to be worried about the issue, on which I assure him that the prison medical service is particularly active.
§ Mr. Barry Field
Will my hon. and learned Friend confirm that the recommendations of the chief inspector of prisons on national prison hospitals, with regard to hepatitis B and HIV, have been fully implemented and recognised?
§ Mr. Mellor
Yes, indeed. We take seriously the professional advice that we receive and, in particular, the role of the chief inspector of prisons, whose job is to cast an objective eye over that and all other aspects of running the prison service.
§ Mr. Ashley
As the Minister is so ready to take advice, will he also consider the advice of the joint committee on vaccination, which recommends vaccinating all high-risk people, including staff and prisoners?
§ Mr. Mellor
As the right hon. Gentleman will be aware, it all turns on the definition of high risk. We certainly have a policy of taking advice from the prison medical service. Anyone whom it wishes to see vaccinated as part of its clinical discretion, and who agrees to be vaccinated, can be. It is always a matter of judgment how far one should go in categorising people independently of the individual judgment of a medical officer. I repeat that we are willing to have our arrangements tested against any independent advice to which hon. Members may have access.