HC Deb 02 February 1999 vol 324 cc718-9
9. Mr. John Heppell (Nottingham, East)

How many women in the Trent health region have received cervical smear tests in the last year. [67167]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. John Hutton)

In the year ending 31 March 1998, 350,617 women in the Trent region were tested, up from 328,014 women in the year to 31 March 1997—an increase of nearly 7 per cent.

Mr. Heppell

I thank my hon. Friend for that response. I congratulate the Government on their recent action in ensuring that quality standards on cervical screening are consistent across the whole country.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the cervical screening programme has been a success, and has saved the lives of thousands of women, and that a lot of that success is due to the dedication of the staff of the service? The previous Government left the work of the staff unsung; the service was understaffed and the staff were overworked and underpaid. On that last point, will my hon. Friend at least ensure that, in the next pay round, the dedication of the staff is recognised.

Mr. Hutton

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to the success of the cervical screening programme. About 4 million women are screened each year in England and it has been estimated that the programme prevents up to 3,900 cases of cervical cancer each year. He might also want to know that coverage in Nottinghamshire is among the highest in the country—slightly over 90 per cent., compared with a target of 80 per cent.

Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood)

I am pleased that the Minister recognises that the cervical smear testing programme constitutes a huge advance in women's health in this country—in the Trent region and elsewhere. Will he also recognise that the programme was introduced—and was given huge stimulation—as a result of the NHS reforms introduced in 1990 by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke)? Will the Minister take this opportunity to congratulate the previous Conservative Government on an important public health programme launched by my right hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Hutton

I am sorry to have to disappoint the right hon. Gentleman, but I shall not be able to do that. We inherited a situation that was not satisfactory and I should point out to him that one of the consequences of the reforms that he oversaw, and for which he was responsible, was the compromising of the effective monitoring arrangements for the cervical screening tests. He should be ashamed of that.

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone)

My hon. Friend will be aware that the assessment of the cervical tests varies from area to area, and that causes some concern. What mechanism is he considering to drive best practice through the service?

Mr. Hutton

I can assure my hon. Friend that the whole thrust of our reforms, right across the board, is to improve the quality of services available to everyone who uses the national health service, including those women who use the cervical test screening programme.

We want to improve the service across the board. That is one of the priorities that we have identified in all our policy documents, and in all that we have said in the House about our policies.

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