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NHS: Dog Attacks

Volume 718: debated on Wednesday 7 April 2010

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many hospital admissions in 2009 were as a consequence of attacks on people by dogs.

My Lords, in the financial year 2008-09, the latest year for which data are available, there were 5,221 hospital inpatient admissions in England where the cause of injury was recorded as being bitten or struck by a dog. The figure does not include people attending only accident and emergency departments for treatment or those attending their general practitioner.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. Given that the majority of dog owners are responsible people—and I declare an interest as a past dog owner—it is extremely disappointing that the Government have failed to ensure that irresponsible dog owners are held to account for the increasing numbers of attacks by aggressive dogs. The public need to be reassured. Are dog owners to be issued with ASBOs if their dogs cannot be issued with DOGBOs? Are there any data to identify which breeds are more prevalent in the attacks, and if so, are the Government using these data?

I am the health spokesperson here, so I may not be able to answer those questions as fully and adequately as my noble friend from Defra might. However—

The Government launched a review of the Dangerous Dogs Act on 9 March and it will finish on 1 June. The noble Baroness is right that the legislation covering, for example, a person bitten in someone’s private home is currently covered only by the Dogs Act 1871. We intend to review that because it does not provide for redress. I am very happy to go into the details of which dogs are covered if the noble Baroness wishes me to—

My Lords, I will ask a health question. I am sure the Minister will agree that, at the other end of the spectrum, for many people, especially the elderly, a dog or a cat is a friend, and often a great mainstay in their lives. Can she say what consideration is being given to animals that help to keep people fit and healthy, especially if they have to go into hospital or long-term care?

The noble Baroness asks a very important question, and she is absolutely right. In many care homes and sheltered housing locations for the elderly the rules have changed over the past few years as people have recognised that having a cat, a dog or even a bird can be of assistance and provide company for people who are ill and possibly lonely.

My Lords, I declare an interest as somebody who bears the scars of an Alsatian. Can the noble Baroness say whether the Government are likely to follow the Scottish legislation, where dog control notices can be issued against people who have failed to control their animals? The notices require them to take a number of measures, such as keeping their animals on a lead or muzzled when they are in public, in order to stop accidents taking place.

I am aware that there is different legislation in the devolved Administration, and indeed there is a Private Member’s Bill in front of the Scottish Parliament at the moment. A number of the ideas being put forward in that Bill, such as dog control notices, have been mentioned in the consultation that we have launched and will be considered during that process.

Is the Minister aware that some dogs get jealous of children? Responsible sellers of dogs should pass this information on to new owners.

Some 25 per cent of such admissions to hospital involve children under 15, so the noble Baroness makes a very good point indeed.

Further to that point, surely it is new parents, rather than new dog owners, who need to be warned.

My Lords, there have been a number of discussions with the medical profession about the importance of doctors in accident and emergency departments referring cases to the police when they feel that there has been a knife or gun attack. The General Medical Council has gone through a series of consultations on this subject. Have there been similar discussions about cases where dogs have clearly savaged individuals? Does the medical profession feel that such cases should be reported to the police?

One of the reasons for our reviewing the Dangerous Dogs Act is the increase in the number of complaints about people being savaged by dogs. That is one of the issues being raised in the consultation process.

Tragedies in which very small children have died in such cases are obviously not included in the Minister’s statistics. However, can she tell us whether the damage done to adults and children in such cases is just of a traumatic type, or is there any lingering transmission of disease from the dogs which necessitates longer hospitalisation?

One of the major issues facing someone who has been bitten by a dog is that they must have the wound cleansed immediately. There are diseases that can be transmitted by all animal bites.