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Aids: Additional Funding

Volume 489: debated on Thursday 29 October 1987

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3.6 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether it is the case, as reported in The Times on 28th September, that the Treasury will provide at least £50 million next year for the treatment and care of AIDS patients over and above the NHS budget; and if not, what additional funds will be provided and how they will be allocated.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security
(Lord Skelmersdale)

My Lords, the Government recognise that as the number of cases of AIDS grows there will be increasing demands on health service resources particularly in the three Thames regions, which currently have over 80 per cent. of reported cases. However, on the question of resource allocations for next year, I am unable to anticipate the statement which my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is to make shortly.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that Answer so far as it goes. Is he aware that the resources made available to the London regions that he mentioned still represent only about one-third of the real need and that the £1·6 million allocated by Mr. Fowler for the drug AZT has, on my understanding, run out? Does he agree that we are in danger of treating the biggest public health hazard of the century on a rather hand-to-mouth basis?

Has the time not come for a strategic plan on the lines suggested by myself in The Times in December of last year and much more importantly by the Select Committee on Social Services of the other place in a report on 13th May in which it makes similar recommendations? Finally, can the noble Lord say whether the Government are planning to respond to the very important report by the Social Services Committee of another place which touches on all these matters?

My Lords, yes, of course we shall respond to the report of the Social Services Committee of another place in due course. I should point out that this year health authorities have received cash increases in their resources of an average 8·8 per cent; that is 3·7 per cent. in real terms. Last week my honourable friend the Minister for health announced an extra allocation of £6·5 million for the three Thames regional health authorities which have been facing special additional pressures as the result of the large number of AIDS patients that we are having to treat. In total this year we have allocated £12·5 million extra to those three regions.

My Lords, is it the case, as reported in the press, that certain hospitals in the Thames regions—and the ones to which I have seen reference are St. Stephen's and the Middlesex—because of the need to treat AIDS cases have had to to reduce other services?

My Lords, no, not to the best of my knowledge. The money is given as a contribution towards health authority costs of treatment and counselling services. It is for the health authorities to decide the level of spending on particular services within the general allocations made to them.

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether the Government will help voluntary organisations such as Phoenix House—and here I have to declare an interest as I chair that organization—to set up hospices or refuges for young women who have AIDS, who are having babies and who are drug addicts? This is a most complicated section of our community and it is not popular in hospitals.

My Lords, the money that the Government provide through Section 64 grants, and about which I think the noble Baroness is talking, is for more general purposes. In other words, it must cover a wide geographical spread and not the specific instance to which she refers.

My Lords, is the Minister able to make a statement yet on what progress has been made on implementing the 1987 AIDS Control Act?

Partially, my Lords. The Act has been brought into effect. It requires health authorities to report by March 1988. The Government will be issuing guidance to the health authorities shortly so that they can prepare reports.

My Lords, I am glad to hear that the Government are planning to reply to the report I mentioned, I think the noble Lord said, "in due course". Can he be a little more specific? That report was published on 13th May. When it does come out will the Government—on this very important issue of public health, perhaps the major public health hazard of this century—make time available for a debate in this House?

My Lords, the subjects for debates are matters for the usual channels, but I feel sure that they will have noted the noble Lord's concern. "In due course" I hope will mean shortly.

My Lords, does the Minister realise that the work done by Phoenix House is spread throughout the country, including Scotland?

I am very grateful for that clarification, my Lords. I shall bear the point in mind and refer it to my honourable friend.

My Lords, will the noble Lord please bear in mind that, due to the increasing number of AIDS patients, many of them will want to be treated in the community and be cared for in their own homes? Will he ask his right honourable friend to make sure that sufficient cash is available to support both these patients and the GPs who have to care for them by way of daily helps, physiotherapists and that sort of thing, so that there is genuine care in the community and not just token care?

My Lords, this is a very wide matter indeed. As the noble Countess will be aware, we have asked Sir Roy Griffiths to report on financial support for people with various disadvantages who live in the community. For the moment, while the whole House will agree that the subject of AIDS is very serious indeed, it is inappropriate to treat the needs of AIDS patients differently from those of patients suffering from other serious conditions.

My Lords, earlier the noble Lord referred to the increase in the numbers of those suffering from this dreadful disease. Will he indicate the latest percentage increase and whether or not his department regard that as very significant?

My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Lord the percentage increases but I can tell him the latest figures. In the United Kingdom at the end of September there were 1,067 reported AIDS patients, of whom 605 had died.