Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 18th June 1996.

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Photo of Mrs Teresa Gorman Mrs Teresa Gorman , Billericay 12:00 am, 18th June 1996

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on the reported incidence of CJD worldwide since 1986. [31702]

Photo of Stephen Dorrell Stephen Dorrell The Secretary of State for Health

Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease occurs worldwide at an average incidence of up to one case per million people.

Photo of Mrs Teresa Gorman Mrs Teresa Gorman , Billericay

Given the disgraceful way in which the Opposition—particularly the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman)—sought to exploit the alleged connection between bovine spongiform encephalopathy and CJD, will my right hon. Friend confirm the latest results which show that the new strain of CJD is occurring in countries that are BSE-free, including many European countries? Does he agree with Dr. Paul Brown, the director of the United States Health Authority and a world expert on the subject, who has said that the incidence of three or four cases of the new strain of CJD in Europe will blow out of the water the thesis that the new strain is caused by BSE? The hon. Member for Peckham will then have to apologise.

Photo of Stephen Dorrell Stephen Dorrell The Secretary of State for Health

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the disreputable behaviour of the hon. Member for Peckham in seeking to feed public fears during the early stages of the argument. As to the incidence of the new strain of CJD, so far there has been one confirmed case outside the United Kingdom in France, although, as my hon. Friend rightly says, it is important that we continue to cast the net widely. That approach was supported by the World Health Organisation in May. The work is being co-ordinated from the British Government CJD surveillance centre in Edinburgh, which is recognised as a world centre of expertise in the matter.

Photo of Mr Dafydd Wigley Mr Dafydd Wigley Leader and Party President, Plaid Cymru

Does the Secretary of State recall that, when he made his statement on this issue in March, I pressed him about resources for research into CJD? Does he therefore understand my surprise at discovering, when I visited the Western general hospital in Edinburgh a week last Friday, that, although verbal promises have been made about additional resources, it has received nothing in writing and, basically, it has the same team as was working in March; that those doctors still have to carry out their responsibilities without the certainty of additional hands to share the work; and that, in the past fortnight, only advertisements have appeared—produced jointly by the Department for Health and the Medical Research Council—for research to be undertaken by those who are dedicated to the work? Is it not time that we gave priority to that work and made resources available? It is a scandal that, three months on, that is not being done.

Photo of Stephen Dorrell Stephen Dorrell The Secretary of State for Health

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that the people doing the work are leading practitioners in the relevant medical fields. I make no apology for that, since they are best placed to make the necessary judgments to ensure that we understand the issue properly. On resources and the development of the research programme, I announced to the House in March that the Government support such development, and the hon. Gentleman has just reported the fact that that development is going ahead.

Photo of Mr John Marshall Mr John Marshall , Hendon South

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the European country that has the highest incidence of CJD is Austria, and that international studies indicate that there is no correlation between the incidence of CJD and behavioural patterns, such as whether one eats beef or meat or is merely a stupid vegan?

Photo of Stephen Dorrell Stephen Dorrell The Secretary of State for Health

My hon. Friend expresses his own views about vegans or—possibly—a particular sub-group of vegans. He underlines the fact that any link between beef eating and CJD has not been proven. Indeed, it is some way from being proven.