HL Deb 12 January 2005 vol 668 cc247-9
Baroness Massey of Darwen

asked Her Majesty's Government: What steps they are taking to encourage men and women to undergo health screening.

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

My Lords, each year the NHS offers a specific screening test to about 10 million people. The Choosing Health White Paper encourages the further use of screening services by men and women as part of an overall programme of improving health and tackling health inequalities. For example, the White Paper announced an extra £80 million to accelerate the roll-out of the national screening programme for chlamydia to cover the whole of England by March 2007.

Baroness Massey of Darwen

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Can he be more specific about the inequalities? I wonder whether there are inequalities in screening and whether certain social classes receive more screening than others; for example, do black minority ethnic groups receive less screening? If so, how can we counter that imbalance?

Lord Warner

My Lords, my noble friend is right. We know that people in deprived inner-city areas and from black and ethnic minority populations are less likely to attend screening programmes. The concept of any screening by class is, of course, unacceptable. The UK National Screening Committee is reviewing each nationally managed programme to ensure that it is effective in reaching all groups and is culturally acceptable.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that disabled people who go for screening often have huge problems because a moving and handling regulation stops staff lifting them on to X-ray tables, plinths or whatever? Does he agree that more suitable equipment, such as hoists and slings, should be available so that those people can have the necessary screening?

Lord Warner

My Lords, I know that there are problems in this area, and I sympathise with the noble Baroness on the issue. I shall certainly look into what is being done in this respect and write to her.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, following the supplementary question of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, can the Minister tell me about the equality in men's and women's screening tests? I have raised this subject many times over the years. I understand that PSA testing for prostate cancer in men has now increased, whereas there has always been a very good programme for breast screening in women. We have always been given the answer that the test is stilll unreliable and that that is why the Government are not making such screening widespread. Is that still the position, or has there been an improvement in the reliability of the test?

Lord Warner

My Lords, as yet there is no evidence of the effectiveness of screening for prostate cancer. The Department of Health has established a prostate cancer risk management programme to ensure that men considering a prostate-specific antigen test are given information concerning the benefits, limitations and risks associated with such a test.

Lord Chan

My Lords, does the Minister agree that screening is currently by disease and is piecemeal? Are there any plans to consider co-ordinating screening for good health?

Lord Warner

My Lords, screening is specific to particular conditions because one of the rules of screening is that it must do more good than harm physically and psychologically. There must be specific tests for particular conditions for which people are screened. But we know that a number of lifestyle issues can cause great concern with regard to people's health, and the NHS will be introducing health trainers as part of the programme of change in this area under the Choosing Health White Paper.

Baroness Barker

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether the Department of Health has plans to issue guidance which will enable the general public to evaluate the efficacy of screening provided by private companies in the private sector?

Lord Warner

My Lords, the Government concentrate their actions very much on running the NHS. But I think that this matter may be looked at by the UK National Screening Committee, if it considers it appropriate.

Baroness Gale

My Lords, can the Minister say what measures he will take to ensure that all Peers are fully aware of the excellent screening programme available to them? I speak from personal experience in that, having taken full advantage of the health check and screening programme, I was diagnosed as having very high blood pressure. Had I not taken the test, who knows what could have happened to me? Therefore, will the Minister undertake to give as much publicity as possible to the programme so that all Peers can take advantage of the service offered?

Lord Warner

My Lords, I am sure the whole House is pleased that the noble Baroness has benefited from this service. I am happy to join her in giving a commercial for the general health screening which is offered to all MPs and Peers every three years. However, I do not believe that this service screens for verbal obesity.

Noble Lords


Baroness Howe of Idlicote

My Lords, with regard to the somewhat younger age group, can the Minister tell us whether enough is being done to encourage those in their 40s to have heart check-ups? A considerable number in that age group seem to die well before their time.

Lord Warner

My Lords, the National Service Framework for Coronary Heart Disease has not adopted a population screening approach for heart disease. However, Standards 3 and 4 of the National Service Framework require GPs to identify all people of all ages with, and at high risk of, coronary heart disease and to place them on a practice register, which enables systematic treatment regimes to be put in place.

Earl Howe

My Lords, the Minister will know that the Choosing Health White Paper referred to a pharmaceutical public health strategy. Can he tell the House what plans the Government have to encourage screening in pharmacies—for too long, an untapped resource in primary care—when the new pharmacy contractual framework is finally introduced later in the year?

Lord Warner

My Lords, the noble Earl is right: we are looking to expand the role of community pharmacies. That has been part of the lengthy negotiations which have taken place with the profession in this area and which have now come to a conclusion. We are considering how to use screening as one of the new duties that pharmacies undertake. I shall write to the noble Earl with better particulars on this matter.

The Earl of Listowel

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the National Depression Screening Day, which has been running in the United States since 1991? Can he tell the House what screening for mental health takes place in this country?

Lord Warner

My Lords, as far as I am aware, there is no national screening programme for mental health. It is certainly not mentioned in my brief. I do not believe that there are any plans at the moment to emulate the United States in that area.

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