Women's Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:26 pm on 10th June 1988.

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Photo of Mr John Browne Mr John Browne , Winchester 12:26 pm, 10th June 1988

I have some sympathy with that line, but I am more of a free marketeer than the hon. Lady. There are methods other than restricting producers, which I shall describe later. I believe that we should go for the advertisers and prohibit what can be advertised. That would have an immediate effect on what is spent on advertising.

The active smoking of tobacco is a major cause of lung cancer, heart disease and cervical cancer. It is estimated that smoking costs the NHS £500 million a year and that it causes more than 300 deaths a day. We have had pretty good results since 1979. Deaths from lung cancer have declined by 9 per cent., but among women have risen by more than 20 per cent. especially among women in their 20s. Girls aged between 11 and 15 now smoke nearly twice as much as boys of the same age. Smoking is a killer. I support the Government health warnings, but they are not enough. They are not hard-hitting enough. The Government must spend a lot more money to publicise the dangers of smoking. Alcohol and tobacco are killers and they require legislative action.

I am a director of a satellite television company. We have a self-denying ordinance—we will not accept any advertising of tobacco or alcohol products. That has an opportunity cost for us. We do it as a self-initiative, but I believe that the Government should prohibit advertising of tobacco and alcohol products on television, which is such an influential medium.

The Government have done a tremendous job on immunisation. The figures speak for themselves. There is now a 68 per cent. take-up of the vaccination for whooping cough, whereas it was only 31 per cent. in 1978, and there is now a 71 per cent. take-up of the measles vaccination, whereas it was only 48 per cent. in 1978. There is more to be done, however, and I welcome the introduction this October of the combined, measles, mumps and rubella vaccination. This is probably the biggest change for 20 years. However, when I look at the grant of £48,000 that the Government have given to the Rubella Council, I think that that illustrates the problem. When one looks at the cost to the National Health Service of £22 billion, the £48,000 shrinks into an insignificance that it does not deserve.

On the subject of screening, particularly for cancer of the cervix and breast, we know that early detection is critical in successfully treating many of these cancers. We have about 2,000 deaths a year from cervical cancer. The screening that has already been carried out is estimated to have saved about 14 per cent. of those under threat. However, the new five-year screening programme that my hon. Friend has announced is estimated to save 84 per cent. of those who are screened. It is, therefore, a very laudable scheme that has been introduced. It is the first fully comprehensive programme in the world. I believe that the Government should be praised for taking this initiative last February particularly by extending the programme to cover women from 20 years of age. I wholly support that. It is all good stuff. Obviously, as it is a trendsetter for the world, we can expect problems, because we are on the cutting edge.

I have to say—my hon. Friend has already mentioned it in her speech—that we have a problem in Winchester and in Basingstoke, because our district health authorities are situated in areas where competing earnings are very high, the cost of housing is very high, and the payment given to those laboratory technicians—people with two A-levels and six months' training—of £7,000 a year is not enough. They are not striking, as they would have done several years ago, but they are getting on their bikes and moving to other employment and to other agencies. Therefore, what has happened is that Winchester and Basingstoke health authorities do not have the laboratory technicians sufficient to support this excellent initiative. Something has to be done, because women in my constituency are now being re-exposed to the risks that existed before the Government took those initiatives. As my hon. Friend has said, I believe that there are 75 per cent. of other laboratories that are under-utilised. The problem is that Winchester local health authority does not know this. It does not know which those under-utilised health authorities are, so how can it send its smears to them?