HC Deb 02 May 2000 vol 349 cc15-6
10. Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

What steps he is taking to improve facilities for identifying and treating those suffering from osteoporosis. [119063]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ms Gisela Stuart)

The Government take osteoporosis very seriously. Significant progress has been made in highlighting the importance of preventing osteoporosis and resulting fractures since the launch of the national strategy in June 1998. That provides a solid foundation for health authorities to develop local strategies. The Government expect to publish the national service framework for older people in the autumn. That will focus on areas of greatest concern to older people including falls and fractures partly in the context of osteoporosis.

Mr. Wigley

I thank the Minister for that hopeful answer. The cost of osteoporosis amounts to £4 million a day because of fractures. Will the Government provide specific funding for primary care groups to manage osteoporosis, especially for elderly people?

Ms Stuart

The causes and treatments of osteoporosis are complex. Medical conditions that result from osteoporosis, such as fractures, are fully funded and treated by the national health service. Several health authorities have adopted a strategy for prevention. Primary care trusts will continue to receive basic guidelines, which will be taken up with more enthusiasm in some areas than in others. To be frank, the response in some areas has not been as encouraging as we would wish.

It is important to note that the Care Standards Bill will set minimum standards in all care homes because elderly people are most at risk. Those standards have not yet been defined, but the consultation document, "Fit for the Future", makes it clear that facilities such as grab rails should be provided in homes. For the first time, minimum standards will apply throughout the country in homes, which house many of those most at risk.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

The Minister has been candid. Why do differences exist in the response to the serious matter of osteoporosis in various parts of country?

Ms Stuart

When local health authorities decide priorities, prevention of osteoporosis may be higher on the agenda in some areas than in others. However, the national health service framework for the elderly and the Care Standards Bill will highlight osteoporosis and prevention. Prevention is a long-term issue, and our strategy includes work on better nutrition because vitamin D deficiencies and an unhealthy life style can cause osteoporosis. Health action zones have taken up those matters, and we are dealing with the differences in several ways.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

The Minister rightly referred to the importance of prevention of osteoporosis. Has she had time during the recess to assess the evidence that shows that light gardening by the over-50s can prevent the onset of osteoporosis?

Ms Stuart

If the hon. Lady wants me to support gardening and exercise in the open air as measures to prevent osteoporosis, I am more than happy to do so.