HL Deb 03 November 2003 vol 654 cc516-8

2.52 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What support they are giving to research in the United Kingdom aimed at reducing the effects of influenza in the population.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner)

My Lords, the Government support a variety of research on influenza, all with the aim of reducing the impact of influenza on the population. It ranges from work on understanding the virus itself to development of new vaccines and improving implementation of existing immunisation programmes, to reducing the impact of a future influenza pandemic.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. Does he recall a time some years ago when the effects of the anti-flu inoculation seemed as bad as the flu itself and when my noble friend Lady Trumpington, who was then a Minister, was giving wise precautionary advice from the Front Bench? Are the Government confident that a flu epidemic will not occur this winter?

Lord Warner

My Lords, we can never be sure what the future holds, but we know that early results from the Australian winter do not suggest that there will be a flu epidemic this winter. We have to watch and wait, which is why we have careful surveillance operations in place. We also know that the strain of vaccine being used this year has reasonably beneficial effects in dealing with the new strain that may be coming from Australia.

Lord Clement-Jones

My Lords, I assume that the Minister is referring to the H3N2 strain of the flu vaccine.

Noble Lords


Lord Clement-Jones

My Lords, no doubt the Minister's notes will confirm that. Can the Minister assure the House that the NICE guidance on the use of Relenza is being fully implemented across the NHS?

Lord Warner

My Lords, I am pleased to be able to tell the noble Lord that the strain that is currently coming from Australia is the H3N2—the Fujian-like strain, which represents a slight variant on the (H3N2) Panama strain which was included in last year's vaccine. I hope that the noble Lord feels much better for that. I think that the noble Lord knows the Government's policy on NICE guidance. Our expectation generally is that the guidance will be implemented in the NHS within a three-month period.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, the noble Lord just took comfort from what was happening in Australia in its current winter. Is he really saying that what happens on the other side of the Earth is of relevance to here?

Lord Warner

My Lords, having watched the England rugby team, I do not have total confidence about what is happening in Australia. We have seen a tendency for flu strains that occur in winter in the southern hemisphere to move to this country over time. That is the only point that I was trying to make.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, if the triple vaccine is absolutely safe, free from the fear of autism, why do we have a vaccine damage Act?

Lord Warner

My Lords, I did not say that. No drug is without some risk if it is to be effective, as I think noble Lords realise. That is why we have a licensing authority and why we have reasonable confidence in the safety of that licensing authority's decisions.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the Government are supporting research into live attenuated intranasal virus rather than injected virus, and whether they are concerned at the uptake of pneumococcus vaccine by those who are particularly at risk?

Lord Warner

My Lords, on the intranasal vaccine, we are watching and awaiting the experience in America where there seem to be promising early signs. Pneumococcal vaccine is, of course, a self-vaccine. This year we have extended the policy so that people aged 80 and over receive the vaccine. The take-up has been good and we are improving supplies from Germany.

Earl Howe

My Lords, did the Minister see in the Financial Times of 31st October the remarks of the editor of the British Medical Journal, who suggested that the Government's emphasis on short-term targets was diverting resources away from basic clinical research? What is his view of that statement?

Lord Warner

My Lords, my view of that statement is rather wide of this particular Question.