HL Deb 06 March 1996 vol 570 cc294-5

2.47 p.m.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will reconsider their decision not to increase funding to Community Hygiene Concern for their "bug busting" campaign in schools.

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

My Lords, in January, Community Hygiene Concern approached the Department for Education and Employment for funding. The organisation was asked to refer its request to the Department of Health. It has not yet done so.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, before asking any supplementary question, may I say how grateful I am that the Department of Health is to produce a leaflet, which I gather the noble Baroness will launch on 22nd April, promoting the "bug busting" campaign.

Does the Minister accept that it is unreasonable to expect this very small charity to provide education to school nurses and medical practitioners for a mere £25,000 a year? Will she look urgently at the question of funding, in view of the fact that many of the chemicals used are now producing resistance in the head lice?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, the noble Countess is right in that we do support this organisation from the Department of Health and have provided £25,000 each year over three years. If it wishes to make an additional request to us, we will consider it. If it has a cashflow problem, as I believe is the case, we would be willing to consider a bridging arrangement.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, can my noble friend assist me? What is "bug busting", and why does it require a campaign?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I believe it is commonly known as "nits".

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the "bug busting" campaign is a non-pesticidal, non-toxic, effective and cheap answer to what is a widespread and very distressing problem, especially among children? Until yesterday the DoH said that it was the DfE's problem, and then the DfE said that it was the DoH's problem. Is not that a perfect example of departmental nit-picking? Is it impossible for those two huge departments to split the difference and each find £577 a month to continue funding that conspicuously successful initiative, which is only asking for £3,500 a quarter for all the work that it does? Failing that, could one of those departments not accept full responsibility for funding it and admit that "the bug stops here"?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, there has never been any doubt about which department is responsible for the organisation. It was the organisation, which thought that it could get more money from another department, that has caused the confusion. The Department of Health has always been responsible for nits. I have never quite understood why I deserve that.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell us what has happened to the small toothcomb, which many of us suffered in our youth? Why not bring it back? There would then be no need for chemicals.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, that is the cheap element in the "bug busting" campaign. The pack produced by that organisation includes a very fine toothcomb. Parents and teachers can use it to eradicate nits.

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there are education implications in not supporting the campaign? Has an estimate been made of the number of school days lost when children are excluded from school because of nits?

Baroness Cumberlege

No, my Lords, I am not aware of the figures for the number of children who do not attend school because of that fact. We believe that parents feel strongly about the problem, as do teachers. That is why we support this organisation and indeed general practitioners and school nurses, who not only use that method but also apply lotions to the children.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, is it not the case that historically schools have been very much involved in diagnosing and head louse treatments and telling parents what to do when their children are found to have head lice? Does she agree that it is therefore very important that school nurses, teachers and others are properly taught how to use the "bug busting" procedures? It involves using an ordinary shampoo, lots of conditioner and combing out the hair while still very wet. That is repeated for four times in a fortnight, during which period all adult head lice are removed and no eggs are laid. If it is not used properly it will fail.

Baroness Cumberlege

Yes, my Lords.