HL Deb 08 July 1993 vol 547 cc1501-4

Baroness Jay of Paddington asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are now able, one year after the publication of The Health of The Nation, to give a progress report on achieving the targets listed as key areas for improving health.

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

My Lords, we will publish a full report on progress on The Health of the Nation in September.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply; I am glad to know that we shall have a report in September. But does the Minister agree that in the past year several actions by the Government, in which I would include cancelling health education advisers for schools, cancelling HIV and AIDS education in the national curriculum and failing to ban tobacco advertising, have undermined the search for those very important standards? Does she further agree that in this context the recent pronouncement of the Secretary of State for Health that she would run up stairs at the Department of Health and serve fruit rather than biscuits seems rather trivial?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I disagree with the noble Baroness. Looking at the 21 key target areas, it is interesting to see that within a year for nine of those areas we are on target. Six are going in the right direction, but perhaps not fast enough. Six, I have to say, are not going in the right direction. Those are the ones that we shall tackle.

Lord Jenkin of Boding

My Lords, can my noble friend, speaking as a health Minister, give the House an assurance that the amendment on sex education for which the House voted by a substantial majority earlier this week will help and not hinder the campaign against the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and the rise in unwanted teenage pregnancies?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I believe that that is the case. I am absolutely certain that by making sex education compulsory in schools we shall begin to tackle much more aggressively the number of unwanted pregnancies among teenagers, which is the highest in Europe.

Lord Rea

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that if the health of the less well off people in Britain could he brought up to the level of the better off, the targets of The Health of the Nation would all be achieved or over-achieved? In view of this well-documented statistic, can she say why no mention is made in the document of the desirability of eliminating inequalities in health?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, when we look across the world, in all developed countries there are variations in health which are linked to geography and to people's social and economic circumstances. We should not overlook the fact that health in this country has steadily improved in all regions and for all social groups as measured by key indicators such as infant mortality and life expectation.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, can the Minister say what the Government are going to do about the very serious shortage of doctors working in the field of STDs in some parts of the country? How will they reach the targets in Section D of The Health of the Nation if this shortage continues?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, the Chief Medical Officer is reviewing medical manpower. I am sure that that is one of the issues that he will take into account.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, can the Minister say whether it will be possible for her, on this very important report, to have consultations with the British Medical Association, UNISON and all the people who devote their lives to our NHS, who are only too keen to assist her?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, we are aware that if we are to achieve the targets in The Health of the Nation we have to involve everybody in the country: those who work within the NHS and those outside it. Certainly we shall achieve very little if we do not involve those who work within the National Health Service. Indeed, this policy was widely welcomed by them when it was launched a year ago.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, is the Minister aware that we welcome the setting up of the Nutrition Task Force under The Health of the Nation programme? Can she say whether there has been any progress with regard to that programme and whether the outlets, such as schools, have yet received any guidance under the new programme?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, the Nutrition Task Force was set up in October last year. It has this week launched its agenda for the next six months and is consulting on it so that everybody can see what it proposes. If there are gaps or different priorities, the task force will take those into account.

Baroness Robson of Kiddington

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the promise of the report in September. Will it include in particular a report on how far we have achieved the dietary targets in The Health of the Nation, particularly in view of the concern of many in this country that people living on social security, especially those under 25, in receipt of a lower benefit are unable to take advice from The Health of the Nation?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I can give the noble Baroness that assurance. One of the matters that concerns me is the lack of knowledge that young people have in preparing food and apparently the lack of enjoyment. I believe that food should be enjoyed by all.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that running up the stairs is a useful form of exercise, and taking more fruit is an essential part of improving our diet? Therefore the advice of our right honourable friend Mrs. Virginia Bottomley is absolutely right.

Did my noble friend hear on the radio today that polio has been virtually obliterated in the Americas, both North and South? Can she tell me what the situation is both in this country and in Europe?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his support for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. One need only look at her to see that she is fit and healthy and responsible for the nation's health.

I am sure that my noble friend is aware that polio has been eradicated both in this country, in Europe and increasingly throughout the world. Indeed, smallpox also has been totally eradicated.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, can the Minister define for us those target areas which are doing well, those which are not doing well and those which are lamentably failing? With regard to tobacco advertising, can she confirm that her Chief Medical Officer of Health favours a restriction on cigarette advertising?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, the noble Lord will have to wait until September for the details of progress on the targets. With regard to tobacco advertising, it is unclear whether in view of the tight controls that are already in place a ban would provide a further fall in smoking. We believe that the best way to control tobacco advertising is through voluntary agreements with the industry. However, we are still considering responses to the Smee report on the effects of tobacco advertising on tobacco consumption. Ultimately it is for individual people to decide whether they want to stop.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, the Minister will recall that last week she answered a question to my satisfaction on the issue of deaths at birth and before the age of one in Manchester. Is she aware that since then the decision has been taken to close the Booth Hall Children's Hospital on the east side of Manchester? It has a long history of serving the area in caring for the health of the children; and with the exception of the authorities concerned, everyone else in the area is opposed to the plan. Can the Minister undertake to give the proposals the closest scrutiny before allowing the closure to take place to the detriment of the children in the area?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, the closures of hospitals are for local determination. If the community health council objects, it must refer to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for a decision.

Lord Eat well

My Lords, is the Minister aware that on Monday I received a circular from the Department of Health dated 23rd June in which it was stated that its policy on AIDS had four pillars, one of which was the inclusion of HIV and AIDS teaching in the national curriculum? Now that the Government have kicked away one of the four pillars of that policy, can the Minister say how that squares with the statement in The Health of the Nation that AIDS is the biggest public health crisis facing the nation?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, as I understand the amendment that was debated thoroughly the other night in your Lordships' Chamber, there is no question that children will not be taught about AIDS and HIV in school. But it will be as part of sex education, which is where it belongs.

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