HL Deb 11 February 1988 vol 493 cc309-12

3.2 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington

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 what further proposals they have to improve health education.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Lord Skelmersdale)

My Lords, in creating the Health Education Authority last April the Government have shown the high priority they place on developing health education further. The authority is undertaking a number of important education campaigns, including the national public awareness education campaign on AIDS. In addition we have taken steps to ensure that all regional health authorities incorporate a health education strategy into their service planning. We have made and will continue to make health education a standard item in ministerial reviews of regions' performance.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, will the Minister accept that there is a long-term net gain to the National Health Service from money spent on health education? I appreciate that in recent months a certain amount of progress has been made in this matter, but does the Minister not agree that a great deal more needs to be done? In particular, can he encourage greater health education in schools and, equally important, in the workplace?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I entirely endorse the noble Lord's sentiments. We are particularly encouraged by the substantial increase in the number of health education officers employed by health authorities. It has risen from 250 in 1979 to more than 600 today.

As regards health education in schools, the consultation document on the national curriculum specifically refers to health education as one of the cross-curricular themes which can be taught through other subjects, and schools will be able to deliver a comprehensive programme of health education for their pupils. I take note of the noble Lord's point about health education in the workplace.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, bearing in mind the continuing drain on the resources of the National Health Service resulting from cigarette smoking, particulary among women and children, will the Government promise maximum support for National No Smoking Day on 9th March and for the first ever World Health Organisation World Non-Smoking Day on 7th April?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, yes, most certainly the Government will support to their utmost National No Smoking Day. We are disappointed that the level of cigarette smoking among adults has not declined as fast as it might, although I note that there has been a 1 per cent. drop in the last year. Clearly we should like it to be more than that.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be a good idea to ask the many voluntary organisations such as the Women's Institute and the Townswomen's Guild to help with this mammoth task, particularly in the light of the rising problems of addictions of all kinds, and to encourage healthy eating?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, yes, most certainly. The Health Education Authority is in control of this matter. It produces publications which are issued to the health education officers to whom I referred earlier, plus the health education officials within district health authorities.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, can the Minister inform me whether there still exists provision for recruitment in health education, because surely there is a great need for further recruitment within the nursing and medical professions? In the past films were used. Can the Minister say whether that facility can still be funded through the Health Education Council?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, as regards direct funding, I am not sure of the answer to my noble friend's question. However, all but two district health authorities now have health education officers whose job it is to disseminate health education information into clinics, general practitioner surgeries and hospitals. It would be for them to carry out the necessary training of the medical and paramedical personnel therein.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, would not the most effective way to stop people smoking be to put £2 on a packet of cigarettes? Is my noble friend aware that if that were done people would live much longer and there would be an even bigger drain on the National Health Service?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I must confess that I speak with personal experience of this matter. Unfortunately, the addition of extra tax on cigarettes has not so far been found to be effective in stopping people smoking.

Lord Broxbourne

My Lords, by way of reinforcing exhortation with example, will my noble friend kindly urge the authorities which direct the administration of this House to reduce the number of ashtrays which are so liberally displayed?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, certainly a reduction in the number of ashtrays would help, but the trouble is that in many cases the carpets might suffer.

Lord Wyatt of Weeford

My Lords, would not a reduction in the number of ashtrays lead to another fire such as that which occured in 1834?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I think that we are entering the realms of hypothesis.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, is the Minister aware that we need to enrol the help of pupils in order to further the prevention of illness and disease? Does he agree that they are now so full of sophisticated knowledge about the physique which has been gained from various television programmes that in short, sharp lessons they could be taught a great deal that would greatly reduce the burden on the National Health Service in later years?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, yes, I certainly agree, but I am not sure about the short, sharp bursts. If that were so I should be recommending my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to make it a core curriculum subject. I should have thought that short but wider-spread bursts would be more effective.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that when the Government abolished the Health Education Council, which had carried out splendid work, and constituted the Health Education Authority in its place, it became known as the "Minister's poodle"? How does he refute that accusation?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the Health Education Authority is an organisation at arm's length from government. It is able and powerful enough to act in a way which any government would not particularly like.