Women's Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:31 pm on 10th June 1988.

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Photo of Miss Emma Nicholson Miss Emma Nicholson , Torridge and West Devon 1:31 pm, 10th June 1988

I am not absolutely sure about the vitamin D content of milk as compared with the benefits of sunlight. It is certainly true that when we eliminated rickets in the United Kingdom, free milk was supplied. Vitamin D comes from other sources, too.

My point about the Asian community in the United Kingdom is that people with darker skin need more sun to synthesise vitamin D. Those of us who have paler skins are acclimatised to our miserable lack of sun, and we are therefore able to use the limited sunlight more effectively. Because of the miserable problems—such as fear of going out and worries about safety—of Asian mothers, they and their babies stay indoors, so they do not benefit even from the minimal sunlight that is available. Extra-rich vitamin D foods, suggestions on diet and more fresh air, and, of course, oils rich in vitamin D, cod liver oil and so on, are offered by the National Health Service. However, it was the outreach to that community which mattered most. That is where the valuable partnership between the voluntary organisation and the Government comes into play, with the Government providing virtually all the funds, and the work being done by a highly respected child care organisation, well known internationally.

I turn to one aspect of the care of the elderly, but only briefly, not because it is not important but because time is short. I feel justified in raising in a debate devoted to women and health the plight of blind women. Most of the constituency of the Royal National Institute for the Blind consists of elderly women with visual problems. Women are considerably healthier than men. They live longer, they are tougher when they are babies and in many ways we are luckier than men. However, because of our long life, more elderly women than men are blind or have sight problems. As everyone knows, only a third of those who have visual problems are registered. One hundred and forty-six thousand people are registered as being blind and 82,000 as being partially sighted.

Ophthalmic surgery has advanced so rapidly, with the new technology for the removal of cataracts—using laser beams and lens implants—that major surgery can now be undertaken for people who have cataracts and ocular degeneration in old age. However, it is expensive and is far down the Government's list of priorities. I suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that more funding on this aspect of eye care would save money for the social services, apart from improving the quality of life of those who have their sight improved.

I welcome the recent announcement by the Minister for Social Security and the Disabled of a grant of £200,000 to the Royal National Institute for the Deaf, which is allowing fresh training provision to be undertaken by social workers who care for the deaf. That is an important element of work in our society, just as special training for social workers who care for the blind is important. That again is a partnership and an initiative involving a voluntary organisation and the Government.