HL Deb 25 February 1986 vol 471 cc935-6
Baroness Masham of Ilton

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied with the number of senior virologists working within the National Health Service.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Baroness Trumpington)

My Lords, it is for health authorities to assess the need for virologists in relation to their overall plans for patient services, and within the broad priorities set by government. There are enough training posts in medical microbiology, of which virology is a sub-speciality, to meet the expected requirements of health authorities and of the public health laboratory service. Recruitment into the specialty is satisfactory.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that reply, perhaps I may ask her whether she can give an assurance that there will be prompt diagnosis in relation to the escalating AIDS virus, and that there will be no diminishing of all the other extremely important work on anti-viral therapy drugs and vaccines.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, screening services for the HTLV III antibody are well established across the country, principally in PHLS laboratories. With regard to AIDS taking resources away from other virology services, this is not happening so far as we are aware. We have provided an additional three-quarters of a million pounds to the PHLS to provide a screening and reference service for AIDS.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, can one divorce the virologist from his tools, of which the most important in the near future is interferon? Can the noble Minister tell us whether sufficient supplies of interferon for experimental purposes are being made available to them?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the department is aware that a number of pharmaceutical companies are very actively involved in research into interferon. The supply of this material for research, clinical trials and therapeutic use is therefore a straightforward commercial supply arrangement and the department is not directly involved.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, bearing in mind the great public concern about the development of AIDS—and I think logically and justifiably so—is it really good enough for the Government to say that it is for health authorities to decide? Is it not in fact for the Government themselves to be satisfied that there is an adequate supply of virologists? Is it not a real problem at the moment that a number of very valuable research projects into this precise matter, submitted by virologists, are being turned down because of the cutback on medical research?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am not aware of the situation mentioned in the latter part of the noble Lord's question. If he has any examples, perhaps he will furnish me with them. With regard to the first part of his question, laboratories across the country have been requested to report to the CDSC the findings of positive tests for antibodies to the virus. There are 30 laboratories in the PHLS alone doing this work, along with all blood transfusion centres, and at least a further 20 or more in other establishments. Health authorities have been asked to arrange for antibody testing within their districts. It is up to the health authorities. As the noble Lord already knows, the Government are providing extra money.

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