HL Deb 15 November 1967 vol 286 cc682-4

2.32 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what progress has been made, to the latest convenient date, with the testing scheme for cervical cancer; what further progress is expected next year; whether there are now sufficient technicians available; and whether any research is being conducted into alternative systems of testing.]


My Lords, the returns from the hospital authorities in England and Wales for June, 1967, show that women were being tested for pre-cancer of the cervix at a rate of nearly 119,000 a month, or over 1,400,000 a year. This shows an expansion of 17 per cent. over the figures for June, 1966.

My right honourable friend the Minister of Health hopes that women will continue to come forward at an increasing rate for routine screening, and he will endeavour to ensure that services are available to meet the demand.

The number of technicians trained in cytology and in post in June of this year was 605, an increase of 32 per cent. in twelve months, although not all of these are employed full-time on routine cervical cytology. These numbers should be adequate to provide the service needed, but the distribution of technicians varies and there are still some areas where more are needed. In the autumn of 1964 my right honourable friend set up five special centres to provide training in cytology for selected technicians. These centres were to provide full-time training so that on completion of their courses the technicians would return to their regions and help to establish or expand the hospital cytology services, and also help to provide local training for other laboratory technicians. Many Regional Hospital Boards now provide local training arrangements of their own. Research, some of it supported by my right honourable friend, is being carried out into a number of possible ways of automating screening methods, but a practicable technique cannot be expected in the near future.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, and would ask him to thank his right honourable friend the Minister for this report on progress. Will he, at the same time, ask the Minister whether the 17 per cent. increase in a year is quite as much as he had hoped for, and whether some additional publicity might lead to increasing numbers of women coming forward? Further, can we be satisfied that in those cases where cancer, or incipient cancer, is diagnosed there are sufficient surgical facilities available to enable the necessary operations to be carried out without any undue delay?


My Lords, on the publicity point, my right honourable friend, in a circular issued in October last year, recommended the setting up of local co-ordinating committees which would, among other things, decide on how best to stimulate demand in their areas. It seems to me that publicity is best handled at local level, because the service is not evenly developed throughout the country. Where it is in adequate operation one can safely have full publicity. I am not aware of any lack of surgical facilities to carry out the operations the necessity for which should be revealed by this service.


My Lords, could my noble friend tell me in what part of the country there is shortage of facilities, and whether this is due to apathy on the part of the authorities, or to shortage of technicians?


My Lords, the facts about this matter are somewhat complicated and, if the noble Baroness agrees, I will send them to her afterwards. I do not believe there is apathy, but when a new service is started up it always seems to go ahead faster in some places than in others.


My Lords, I understood the noble Lord's Answer to refer only to England and Wales. Can he say what the situation is in Scotland?


My Lords, I regret that I am not in a position to do so at the moment, but I will arrange for the details to be sent to the noble Lord by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State.


My Lords, can the noble Lord say what progress has been made in the use of lasers for diagnosis of cervical cancer?


My Lords, I understand that the hopes formerly entertained of progress in this particular branch of technology do not appear likely to be sustained.