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Public Health

Volume 404: debated on Thursday 1 May 2003

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How many discussions she has had in the past year with the Secretary of State for Health regarding women's public health issues.[110644]


How many discussions she has had in the past year with the Secretary of State for Health regarding women's public health issues.[110647]

My officials have been working closely with the Department of Health and other Departments to draw together targets to tackle gender equality, including in public health. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State with responsibility for public health has ensured that women's needs are taken into account throughout our public health programmes, including those on breast cancer, cervical cancer and osteoporosis, and in our broader work on mental health, health inequalities and domestic violence.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer. Does she accept the comments that were recently made by Professor Adler of the Royal Free University medical college, who said that levels of sexual disease in England have reached crisis point, and that the Government's current levels of funding for sexual health will not even cover the costs of a chlamydial screening programme, let alone other sexually transmitted diseases? In her forthcoming discussions, will she and her officials raise the need to consider further funding for the treatment and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases?

The increase in sexually transmitted diseases, particularly among young women, is a matter of enormous concern, and I will of course discuss it further with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary.

The Minister will be aware that in 2001 heart disease killed 54,000 women—it was the single biggest killer. What work is she doing with the Department of Health on that subject; and does she have a view on whether the much-publicised "eat chocolate to get fit" campaign will help to reduce heart disease among women?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to draw attention to the prevalence of heart disease and the number of deaths that it causes among women. As we know, heart disease is all too often seen as a male, not a female, disease, and in some tragic cases it is simply not diagnosed in women. The need to ensure that the medical profession pays attention to heart disease among women is an important part of the programme introduced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health to improve services and to cut the rate of preventable death from heart disease.

The Minister will probably be aware that yesterday there was an immensely successful conference in Parliament on endometriosis, which was attended by the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Ms Blears). It was organised by the all-party group on endometriosis, the National Endometriosis Society and the SHE Trust, and proposed a programme of work to raise the profile of that condition, which affects 2 million women in this country. Would she be willing to meet a delegation from the all-party group to discuss that programme?

I am aware of the conference and I congratulate everyone who was involved in organising it. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence is already considering how it can improve advice to GPs on an extremely painful and common condition. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health would be delighted to receive a deputation on such an important issue.

Has my right hon. Friend considered the specific problem of secondhand smoke in her discussions with the Secretary of State for Health on women's public health issues? It carries additional risks for women of increased lung cancer and heart disease. What proposals is she examining to tackle that problem? Has she considered the possibility of a ban on smoking in restaurants and cafs?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Of course, he has a Bill on the subject. The increase in smoking among young women is especially worrying not only for their health but for that of the children they will have. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health is considering my hon. Friend's proposal for a ban on smoking in all public places. Those of us who are not smokers welcome the opportunity to enjoy smoke-free environments.

The Minister recognises the importance of sex education in schools in helping to deter immature and promiscuous sexual behaviour and reducing unwanted teenage pregnancies. What discussions has she held on the subject with her colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills?

I have discussed the matter with colleagues in the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills for some years. It is clear from experience not only here but in other countries, including the Netherlands, that the best way to ensure that young people do not engage in risky and premature sexual behaviour is to enable them to have an open discussion about not only sexual activity but the emotions and relationships associated with it and the desirability of a strong and loving relationship within which sex can take place.