§ Mr. Richard Page
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he has received Dr. Whitehead's report about contaminated first aid dressings; and if he will make a statement.
§ Mr. Kenneth Clarke
My hon. Friend the former Minister for Health announced on 23 December 1981 that Dr. Whitehead, director of the Public Health Laboratory Service had agreed to carry out an inquiry into the contamination of sterile first-aid dressings. This inquiry was necessary because of the discovery of contaminated dressings imported from India. Urgent steps were taken at the time to warn the public and to stop the distribution of these dressings.
Dr. Whitehead's report has now been received and copies have been placed in the Library of the House. The report confirms that the risks from the use of contaminated dressings are small but unacceptable. The report goes on to recommend that sales of undesirable dressings should be restricted by making more effective use of existing legislation and in particular the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act and the Trade Descriptions Act. The Government propose to accept and act on those recommendations without delay.
The Health and Safety Executive, working jointly with the Department, will soon be launching a scheme to inform employers of the names of manufacturers approved by the Department's inspectors. Employers will be advised to obtain sterile dressings required in first-aid containers only from approved manufacturers. The Health and Safety Executive's inspection service will monitor work-places to 133W ensure that only dressings from approved sources are being used. These arrangements will provide added protection for people at work where the great majority of first-aid dressings are needed.
In addition, steps are being taken to protect the consumer purchasing sterile first-aid dressings from retail outlets. It is an offence under the Trade Descriptions Act to supply goods to which a false trade description has been applied. The supply of first-aid dressings falsely described as "sterile" can constitute such an offence. Enforcement of the Act's requirements is a matter for local authority trading standards departments. We shall be supplying these departments with information about the manufacturer approval scheme and will be discussing further with their co-ordinating body—the Local Authority Coordinating Body on Trading Standards—ways in which this can be used to focus their enforcement effort effectively. The Department's inspection service will be available to help in this work.
I am satisfied that the new arrangements will provide the necessary protection for people who use sterile first-aid dressings both at work and at home.