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NHS: King’s College Hospital

Volume 716: debated on Tuesday 5 January 2010

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they are giving to national funding of highly specialised research and treatment services, such as those provided at the Haemato-oncology Department at King’s College Hospital.

My Lords, the Department of Health has established arrangements in place to ensure that specialised NHS services, where necessary, are commissioned nationally, and that the best research is supported. As a result, 50 services are at present subject to national commissioning, and the National Institute for Health Research supports vital research, including a great deal on haemato-oncology across the country.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Does she appreciate that if the national blood authority, the Anthony Nolan Trust and King’s College Hospital could be brought together in some way, we could have a national unit for bone marrow failure that would be of international standard and thus of great benefit to both patients and research?

My Lords, this country has a strong and internationally recognised track record in bone marrow donation and the Anthony Nolan Trust and NHS Blood and Transplant play a central and important role in delivering this. King’s College Hospital is a world-class teaching hospital whose research in this area is absolutely superb, particularly at the new cellular therapy centre for research. We welcome close collaboration on all aspects of health science research, and in this instance we look forward to great results from this collaboration.

Have the Government undertaken an assessment of the risk to clinical services if the recession results in a decrease in the research grants available, given the number of clinical services that are supplied by those receiving funding from university programmes?

My Lords, we put £1.7 billion into research through Best Research for Best Health. As the noble Baroness will be aware, over a three-year period of transition we are funding research programmes contestably and transparently through rigorous competition. This is working very well indeed and we do not expect any reduction in the work. For example, the funding supports the department of haematology at King’s College Hospital and the Guy’s and St Thomas’s Biomedical Research Centre. We have no reason to assume that this funding is under threat at all.

My Lords, the Minister will know that haemoglobinopathies such as sickle cell anaemia and thalassemia cause great suffering to many children and adults in this country. Can she tell us how many researchers into these conditions are in receipt of government grants, and whether there is a network of clinics so that patients can be referred to where they can get help and treatment within the 18-week rule announced this summer?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to say that many different sorts of anaemia require attention, some of which are very specialised indeed. For example, we expect around 129 people to be affected by paroxysmal nocturnal haemoglobinuria, but it is very serious. I cannot give her the exact figures, but each different type of anaemia has its own programme, some of which are nationally funded and some are funded through regional specialisations.

I shall follow up the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, about the effect of the recession on grants to these units. Has any assessment been made of the reduction in charitable donations to such organisations? After all, some of the biggest donors were banking groups and many private donors are stressed for funds at the moment. Is there a plan B or will the work of these units be badly affected not only by cutbacks in government funding but by reductions in charitable donations?

I have no statistics in my brief about that issue. However, it is reported in today’s papers that, through the funding of the Wellcome Trust, a new vaccine for cancer is being tested at King’s College Hospital. We have no reason to assume that such research will not continue. However, I will ask internally about the question raised by the noble Baroness.

My noble friend raises an important point about rare conditions. The department launched a consultation in December about this issue seeking views from industry, stakeholders and voluntary organisations on the development of the arrangements proposed in the Carter review, which the House discussed recently. This is about shaping how we commission services, new drugs and treatments for people with extremely rare conditions so that we end up with both a robust and fair system.

My Lords, what is happening in the specialised field of research into and treatment of spinal injuries? In particular, is the Minister aware of the difficult circumstances of the unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, which is being affected by the shambles which has occurred in the PFI of the main part of the hospital? The buildings erected under the PFI are unfit for purpose and the remedy is to destroy part of the spinal injuries unit.

I am not aware of the specifics of Stoke Mandeville. The noble Lord and I both have connections with Stoke Mandeville—my grandfather spent 25 years of his life visiting the hospital—and we have discussed the issue of spinal injuries and how they are dealt with across the country. The location of spinal injury units and where people are given the best treatment is a major issue for those dealing with spinal injuries. I am not up to date on spinal injuries. The issue is not part of the Question, which is about haemato-oncology services, but I undertake to find out the up-to-date position on Stoke Mandeville and to let the noble Lord know.

Does the Minister appreciate that research into the condition she mentioned—paroxysmal nocturnal haemoglobinuria, which is known as PNH—already receives funding at King’s on a national basis, so there is a precedent for it to receive national funding? Would it not be good if it was given national funding for the collection of the umbilical stem cells it needs for transplants in adults, of which it does more than anyone else in the country?

The noble Baroness is aware that the collection of cord blood stem cells is done across PCTs. However, we have made money available for that and have set a target and made an agreement with the national blood services to fund the collection of up to 20,000 cord blood units by 2013.