HC Deb 07 February 1985 vol 72 cc645-6W
Mr. Raffan

asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether his Department has concluded its review of congenital malformations in Wales; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Nicholas Edwards

My Department's review has been completed and I am today publishing the results in full as a report entitled "The incidence of congenital malformations in Wales, with particular reference to the district of Torfaen, Gwent." I have placed a copy in the Library.

I initiated this review as part of a response to public concern in Pontypool at the operation there of Re-Chem International Ltd's industrial waste disposal plant following the establishment by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland of an independent review under Professor J.M.A. Lenihan of unusual features of morbidity in the Denny-Bonnybridge area. At the outset I asked my Department to review statistics for Pontypool similar to those published by the Scottish Office immediately prior to the setting up of the Lenihan inquiry. These included the incidence of cancers and of babies born with congenital abnormalities. While the figures published on the incidence of cancers in Torfaen revealed no cause for concern, the data produced on congenital malforma-tions were insufficiently detailed to provide a confident basis upon which to reach conclusive judgments. As a consequence I commissioned a more detailed and extensive study covering a longer period.

The review has compared from routinely available statistical data the incidence over the period 1974 to 1983 of all babies with certain congenital malformations in each of the district council areas of Wales. The malformations chosen include those about which particular public concern has recently been expressed, notably specific abnormalities of the eye. For each condition, the rate for Torfaen has been compared with that for the county of Gwent and for Wales as a whole.

The results indicate that for all babies with congenital abnormalities and for most of the specific conditions reviewed, Torfaen had over the 10-year period incidence rates less than those for Wales and less or not significantly higher than those for Gwent. In the case of only two conditions, anencephalus and polydactyly, was the rate significantly higher than that for Wales; in the case of the latter it was also significantly higher than the rate for Gwent. A higher than average incidence of anencephalus in the south Wales valleys during the past 30 years has been reported in medical journals since 1967. My Department has recently conveyed to Professor Michael Laurence of the university of Wales college of medicine, its support in principle to his request for funding of a continuation of some of his previous work on congenital abnormalities of the central nervous system. He has new been asked to include in this work the latest findings on anencephalus and, because of his special interest in congenital abnormalities, the previously undocumented elevated rate for polydactyly.

A special effort has been made to review the incidence of two particular abnormalities of the eye, anophthalmos and microphthalmos, about which there has been public concern. No cases of either of these two conditions is recorded as having been notified in the Torfaen area. The incidence rate for Gwent is below that for Wales.

My Department also examined statistics on the level of spontaneous abortions in individual districts of Gwent and throughout Wales and the ratios of girls to boys at birth in all districts in Wales as well as studying the ratios among cohorts of 5-year-old children registered at New Inn primary school, Pontypool. The results of this work are also published, as appendices to the report. Over the 10-year period the rate of recorded spontaneous abortions in Gwent was significantly higher than that for Wales as a whole. However, the rate for Torfaen was not significantly higher than the rate for Gwent. There is no evidence that the female to male sex ratios at birth in Torfaen differ significantly from the all Wales average over the 10-year period.

The review of conditions covered in this report—apart for anencephalus and polydactyly — does not indicate that the experience of Torfaen residents is in any way exceptional. The Lenihan report may indicate the need nonetheless to consider further action.

In the meantime, I have asked my Department to consider what may need to be done in Wales to improve the present arrangements for the notification of congenital malformations and of any other national data bases used for epidemiological studies.

Residents of the Pontpool area should be reassured by this report. In addition, I am sure that the authorities with a more local responsibility for public health would he ready, together with my Department, to consider any evidence of further concern.