HC Deb 26 March 2001 vol 365 cc451-2W
Mr. Harvey

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what precautions against vCJD are taken in surgical procedures other than tonsillectomies; what organs are known to incubate vCJD; and if he will make a statement. [150433]

Yvette Cooper

On 4 January 2001 the Department announced a precautionary strategy for reducing the theoretical risk of transmission of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) from patient to patient via surgical instruments.

The strategy focuses first and foremost on ensuring high standards of decontamination. This has been identified by the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee (SEAC) to be a key step in reducing risk. In October 2000, the Department required all National Health Service trusts and health authorities to conduct comprehensive reviews of their decontamination services. As part of this work, decontamination facilities at neurology and posterior ophthalmology centres have recently been inspected and any necessary improvements identified. A comprehensive strategy to modernise NHS decontamination facilities, backed by £200 million funding announced on 4 January and based on the trust reviews, is currently being prepared. This strategy will be published once it is complete.

The "Risk Assessment for the transmission of vCJD via surgical instruments" published by the Department on 16 March (available from the Department's website at www.doh.gov.uk/cjd/riskassessmentsi/htm) confirms that the risks of transmission are significantly reduced if instrument decontamination is carried out to the highest standards. On body organs, the risk assessment also shows that the central nervous system and the back of the eye would carry the highest potential infectivity, whereas lymphatic tissue such as tonsils, and front of the eye tissue are of a lesser order of risk.

When the Department's strategy was presented to SEAC at its meeting in November 2000, the committee welcomed it and the advances being made on decontamination. The committee also endorsed the concept of using tonsillectomy as a pilot scheme to see how single-use instruments would work in practice.

Dr. Gibson

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what investment he has made with regard for a diagnostic test for vCJD. [151269]

Yvette Cooper

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Department of Health, the Food Standards Agency, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Medical Research Council (MRC) on 15 March 2001 issued a call to scientists for proposals to develop quick, effective and reliable diagnostic tests for diseases such as BSE and variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease (vCJD). This latest co-ordinated drive aims to push the boundaries in as many ways as possible and break new ground towards creating usable diagnostic tools. The MRC is co-ordinating this call on behalf of United Kingdom Government Departments and agencies who fund public research into transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Funding decisions are expected from autumn 2001 onwards.