Oral Answers to Questions — Fuel Poverty

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd March 1999.

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Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South 12:00 am, 2nd March 1999

What suggestions he has received about the role of primary care groups in addressing the health consequences of fuel poverty. [72377]

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell Minister of State (Department of Health) (Public Health)

One of the three key tasks for primary care groups will be the improvement of the health of their local population, and we attach great importance to that role. Fuel poverty can contribute to increased risk of heart attack, stroke and respiratory conditions such as flu, pneumonia and bronchitis. An interdepartmental group reviewing all Government policy on fuel poverty identified primary care groups as a potential way of reaching households in need of help with that problem. Work is in hand to explore that possibility further.

Photo of Alan Simpson Alan Simpson Labour, Nottingham South

Will the Minister ask the interdepartmental group to pay particular attention to work being done on warm homes programmes in at least two areas? First, in Cornwall, considerable work is being done to tackle child asthma and, secondly, in Birmingham, a collaboration with the local authority allowed home insulation to be offered on prescription. Will my right hon. Friend consider the lessons to be learned from such initiatives and seek to extend them where possible so that we can ask primary care groups to tackle the causes of ill health as well as its consequences and costs?

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell Minister of State (Department of Health) (Public Health)

I am delighted to take on board my hon. Friend's suggestions for good practice and to reaffirm the Government's commitment to tackle the root causes of ill health by working across Government and, in doing so, to tackle inequality in health, which blights our society.

Photo of Mr Archie Norman Mr Archie Norman Conservative, Tunbridge Wells

Is the Secretary of State aware that the right hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn), when he was a Health Minister and before he became Chief Secretary to the Treasury, reassured Conservative Members that there would shortly be an announcement on the next round of hospital private finance initiatives, including the consideration of a case in my constituency relating to West Kent and East Sussex

Photo of Miss Betty Boothroyd Miss Betty Boothroyd Speaker of the House of Commons

Order. I think that I must have called the hon. Gentleman on the wrong question. This question concerns the health consequences of fuel poverty. I call the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth).

Photo of Eric Forth Eric Forth Conservative, Bromley and Chislehurst

What is fuel poverty compared with, for example, food poverty or clothing poverty?

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell Minister of State (Department of Health) (Public Health)

Fuel poverty is measured as the need to spend over 10 per cent. of one's weekly income on keeping warm.

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney Labour, Stafford

The question demonstrates one of the many demands on the boards of the new primary care groups at this stage. If the Stafford primary care group is anything to go by, the management structures are certainly as lean as the Government would like them to be. Will the Minister assure the House that the new boards will have adequate resources and training so that they have the expertise as well as the time, which is very important, to be able to deal with conflicting demands at this important time in their establishment?

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell Minister of State (Department of Health) (Public Health)

We are determined that the role of primary care groups will not be only to deliver primary care to local people, but to act as a major force in meeting the Government's targets for broader health improvement and reducing preventable deaths. We shall certainly work with primary care groups so that they are clear not only that they are in the business of ensuring that people receive treatment for ill health, but that they are a force for health improvement.

Photo of Dr Peter Brand Dr Peter Brand Liberal Democrat, Isle of Wight

I am sure that the Minister recognises the importance of delivering the wider public health agenda and the role of primary care groups in that aim. Does she agree that local authority services are an integral part of the delivery of the wider public health agenda? Would not it be sensible to integrate, perhaps as pilot studies, a number of health and local authority services so that we can find out whether the proposals can go further? A coterminous area such as my own, an island, would welcome such an initiative.

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell Minister of State (Department of Health) (Public Health)

We certainly recognise the importance of close partnership between health and local authorities in tackling health inequality and improving health. The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the many steps that the Government have taken to reduce the obstructive and artificial boundaries between health and local authorities. The Health Bill will set out a new framework, including a duty of partnership between health and local authorities, so that the people of a given area no longer have to grapple with the dreadful bureaucracy that results from a single need being met sometimes by services from the local authority, and sometimes by health authority services. Health improvement is also about making sure that we achieve closer integration of the working of health and local authorities.