HL Deb 12 March 1992 vol 536 cc1432-3

3.11 p.m.

Lord Ross of Newport asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are now able to relax the rule about the hard boiling of eggs in National Health Service hospitals so that patients wishing to do so can obtain an egg with a soft yolk.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Hooper)

No, my Lords, the Government's advice remains that vulnerable people such as the elderly, the sick, babies and pregnant women should consume only eggs which have been cooked until the white and yolk are solid. We expect all caterers, especially National Health Service caterers, to follow that advice.

Lord Ross of Newport

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does she agree that a patient recuperating in hospital would rather like to have a lightly boiled egg for breakfast, not one that is totally incinerated? One can have that kind of egg in this establishment, in Parliament. After all, these instructions were first introduced in July 1988. If it is still considered that there is a risk from salmonella, should not patients be advised to take their own supply of eggs into hospital with them? That would therefore relieve the NHS of any responsibilities.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, although the risk is probably small, I am sure that the noble Lord would not wish us to instruct managements to relax their vigilance or any precautions taken which are, or may be, necessary in catering for vulnerable people in their care. It is up to individuals to heed or to ignore government advice.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, is it also the case that one has to have a hard fried egg as well as a hard boiled egg? If so, what is the difference in the infection rates between soft boiled eggs and soft fried eggs?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the Government's advice remains that any eggs which have not come from processed egg products and which are consumed should be cooked until they are solid.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, is it true that boiled eggs are available for Members in another place to buy at breakfast time? Can the Minister tell us whether there is any possibility of extending that facility to Members of your Lordships' House?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, as I understand it, Members of your Lordships' House are able to use the facilities in the other place.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, can my noble friend tell me whether a hospital would be liable if a patient contracted salmonella at a time when he or she was more vulnerable? Is the Minister aware that it is much harder to turn out a soft boiled egg than a hard boiled egg?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that the risk of a patient receiving a soft boiled egg from a hospital kitchen, at his or her bedside, is probably remote. Of course, hospitals are much affected by the removal of Crown immunity, which was lifted in 1986. So they are subject to inspection and, if appropriate, prosecution in the same way as any other catering establishment.

Lord Carter

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that despite the slaughter of 2¾ million laying hens since 1988, at a cost to the taxpayer of £4½ million, the number of cases of salmonella enteritidis food poisoning in the first eight weeks of 1992 was three times the level of similar cases in 1988? Does that not indicate that eggs may not be the prime cause of salmonella food poisoning?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the Government introduced a full package of measures in 1988 to control the incidence of food poisoning which is known to have resulted from infection of eggs. The Government are keeping the various measures which are designed to safeguard public health under constant review. I confirm that the number of outbreaks in regard to eggs that have been reported to the Public Health Service Monitoring Laboratories at Colindale is 52 for 1991.

Lord Annan

My Lords, did I hear the noble Baroness correctly when she said that the Government give advice to all caterers not to serve anything other than hard boiled eggs? If so, is it not an intolerable intrusion on the rights of decent chefs? Moreover, a warm hard boiled egg is one of the most nauseating foods to eat.

Baroness Hooper

Yes, indeed, my Lords. The Government issued their advice to apply to all caterers, both commercial and domestic.

Lord Holme of Cheltenham

My Lords, does the Minister agree that this Question will run and run?