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Accidents: Costs

Volume 731: debated on Monday 31 October 2011

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they are taking to reduce the cost to United Kingdom society of home and leisure accidents.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as president of RoSPA.

My Lords, the Government are taking steps to improve the health of the population through reforms to the health and social care systems, and cross-government policies that support health and safety. These will contribute to reducing the costs to society of accidents, including those caused in the home and through leisure activities.

I thank the noble Earl for his reply. Will he acknowledge that in contrast to other priorities in public health, accident prevention is the only topic that still does not have a lead body? Does he accept that that is a massive gap, considering that accident prevention and home and leisure accidents cost the National Health Service £5 billion a year? Will he give an assurance that the Government will treat this as a matter of urgency by directing Public Health England to a programme of national strategic accident prevention as a mandatory feature in all local public health plans?

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord’s work as president of RoSPA and, indeed, to the work of RoSPA itself. He may recall that the public health White Paper that we issued some months ago—Healthy Lives, Healthy People—as well as the update that we issued, specifically lists accident prevention as one of the key areas of responsibility. That to my mind is par excellence an area where local authorities will be able to make a difference with their new public health responsibilities under the Health and Social Care Bill. They will be able to work with organisations like RoSPA and professional groups such as health visitors to improve safety in their areas. We look forward to working with them on those programmes, should they choose to prioritise them.

My Lords, while declaring an interest as deputy president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, I warmly applaud my noble friend’s commitment to the way in which we have restored at long last accident prevention as one of those key objectives. Will he please do a little more by setting the agenda on the right way forward to stop the sort of problem just referred to by the noble Lord?

There is no question but that accidents in the home and in leisure contexts are a serious issue. It so happens that the UK has a very good record compared with some other European countries, but we can never be complacent on this. Some very tragic accidents occur, particularly to children, that we must bear down upon. Again I pay tribute to the work of RoSPA to prevent accidents with looped blind cords, which can often be a hazard to children. NICE has published accident guidelines relevant to home and leisure situations and also guides focusing on home safety and road design. It is that realm of public health that we hope NICE will focus on more and more as the years go by.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gas Safety inquiry into carbon monoxide poisoning, whose report is being published today. Do the Government recognise that carbon monoxide poisoning currently costs the country about £178 million in total; that the protection of putting up a carbon monoxide alarm in each home in Britain for a year would cost less per home than a cup of coffee at a motorway service station; and that lives would be saved if carbon monoxide alarms were readily available? If the Government considered removing VAT from them, it would give a very strong message that everybody must protect themselves.

My Lords, the noble Baroness has highlighted a very serious and important problem. She will know that in the European Union context the Commission has focused very strongly on products that may prove unsafe if sold wrongly or if manufactured or fitted wrongly. The kinds of safety incidents that she refers to could well fall into that category and work is ongoing in that area. However, I take on board the figures that she has so graphically supplied and will feed them back to my department.

My Lords, the 1968-71 experiment with moving the clocks around produced some evidence about accidents. In the current debate, since we all enjoyed an extra hour in bed yesterday, I wonder whether there is any concrete evidence about the reduction in accidents that moving the clocks around supplied, given that in 1968-71 we were also introducing the drink-driving laws that somehow compounded the evidence that was provided for us.

My noble friend raises a point that we have often debated in this Chamber. He is, of course, right that single/double summer time would put clocks one hour ahead of Greenwich Mean Time in winter and two hours ahead in summer. Any change to the current system of British Summer Time would have wide-ranging implications, and those implications would have to be carefully considered in all parts of the UK, probably, in terms of the costs and benefits associated with them.

My Lords, I welcome the fact that the revised blueprint of Healthy Lives, Healthy People now includes accidental injury prevention. Can the Minister confirm that that would therefore be a new responsibility added to those that public health authorities will be taking up? Has that been costed and will extra funding be available for local authorities and the new public health authorities to deliver on it given that, if they are successful, they will be saving a great deal of money?

As the noble Baroness knows, much will depend on the priorities that individual local authorities set. This is subject to further engagement because it is early days, but accidental injury prevention is listed as one of the areas that local authorities could focus on. To my mind, they should be warmly encouraged to focus on accident prevention as there are so many levers at their disposal to make a difference in this area.