HL Deb 25 May 1988 vol 497 cc891-3

2.35 p.m.

Baroness Sharpies asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made in establishing a national breast cancer screening programme.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the Government are proud of the excellent progress of the national breast cancer screening programme. Each regional health authority in England has set up at least one centre serving a population of about half a million. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also well advanced with their plans.

Baroness Sharpies

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very satisfactory reply. Will he tell the House whether all patients who attend a mammograph test will receive the results? Are there sufficient staff to be able to cope with this very ambitious scheme?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the training of staff is going extremely well. The regional health authorities have now designated 17 centres around the country which will provide back-up facilities for diagnosis, treatment, counselling and care. As regards all "screenees", for want of a better expression, being told the results of their tests, that would again on occasion depend on clinical judgment.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, if patients are found to have cancer how long will it be before they are admitted to hospital for treatment?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, that would depend entirely on the progress of the disease in the individual. I could not give a general answer.

Lord Hunter of Newington

My Lords, what is the optimum number of units required reasonably to cover the whole country?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, we believe that about 100 units including the 17 in England to which I referred will indeed be adequate. By 1990 it is intended that the whole of Wales will be served by two static and five mobile basic screening units. The position in Scotland is presently being discussed but the current intention is to have 10 centres there.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, will the noble Lord consider changing the name "screenees" to women? The Question is about breast cancer screening, so it could not possibly refer to men. It could not apply to "screenees" either.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I stand corrected. I appreciate the fact that this is hardly a unisex matter.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, is the Minister aware that a few years ago we had a discussion in your Lordships' House about the possibility of having a place within the Houses of Parliament where women could go to be screened? Has that been implemented or is there any chance of it being implemented?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, that question is rather a fast ball. Speaking entirely from memory, I believe that arrangements have been made for the female staff of both Houses to be screened. I am unable to say whether the unit is actually within the precincts of the Palace.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the main problem in establishing a national framework is that of training radiologists? Perhaps he can tell the House what progress is being made in that field so that we shall know how long it will be before the service is fully effective.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. That is the reason the programme has not been introduced much faster than has been the case so far. However, all parts of the country should have a service by 1990. We hope to be able to announce details for the remaining centres in England by July.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we welcome what the Minister has said, particularly as regards Wales and Scotland. Does he agree that in this case, as in so many others, the problem is to present the service in areas which are predominently rural? Does he agree that the percentage of screening which is carried out in rural areas is far lower than that carried out in urban areas, where the problem is not as great? Perhaps the Minister can tell the House what progress can be made in the rural areas of England, Scotland and Wales.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, in my earlier answer I mentioned five mobile basic screening units for Wales. Those units are particularly applicable to use in rural areas. So far as concerns rural areas of Scotland and England, I do not have details at the moment. I shall write to the noble Lord.

Lord Blease

My Lords, can the Minister give the House details of mobile and other units which are available in Northern Ireland?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, as in the rest of the United Kingdom, breast cancer screening will be introduced in stages. It is intended that the first screening unit should be in place later this year and that a service covering the whole of Northern Ireland should be operational by the end of 1990. Initially, arrangements are being made to train Northern Ireland staff at one of the national centres.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, I am grateful for what the Minister has said about the screening process. However, I am sure he will agree that nothing is worse for a woman than to be told that she has cancer and to then find herself waiting for treatment. Is there any possibility that when a woman is told that her screening test is positive, she will be sent an appointment to see a consultant at the same time?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, there is indeed a possibility. That is why I was a little cagey in answering my noble friend's first supplementary question. Counselling and clinical judgments by the doctors concerned are all-important in this area.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that British Telecom is providing a screening service for its female staff? Are there plans to invite other large companies to do the same and thus relieve some of the pressures on the National Health Service?

Lord Skelmersdale

Yes, my Lords. There is constant discussion on those matters. I welcome British Telecom's approach. It is very important that such private screening should be fully interlinked with the National Health Service. Otherwise, gaps may occur.