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The Department has made no assessment. PCTs and prison partnerships may consider using telemedicine as an alternative to hospital appointments for offenders, after considering any security issues and the benefits for improved health care. Decisions about treatments for offenders, including video link consultations, are made by local commissioners.
Red Embedded Design, an SME technology company in my constituency, is working in partnership with Airedale NHS Foundation Trust to enable video link medical consultations to take place in prisons. May I suggest that the Minister look closely at this scheme, which has been rolled out in a number of prisons? He will see the cost benefits and the lack of risk of absconding involved. Will he encourage other PCTs around the country to introduce the system in their prisons?
As part of a wider programme, a demonstrator project looking at telemedicine and telecare, we are looking at a possible roll-out of such approaches. In regard to the specific case of the Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, I would be only too happy to look further at the details and the benefits that have arisen.
Telemedicine is obviously a help, but nothing beats talking to a real human being about our medical problems. Would the ministerial team consider copying the Conservative-Liberal Government in Sweden, who have banned from all public agencies, including health agencies, automatic answering machines-the kind that tell us to "Press 1", "Press 2" or "Press 3"? Instead, people calling those agencies have to speak to a real live Swede in Sweden. Would not that be a good step forward for our health service?
The right hon. Gentleman has found a cunning way of getting in a point that does not directly relate to the question. He makes a very fair point, however. It is important that people should feel confident that, when they pick up the phone and make a call, they can speak to a person. Telemedicine can provide that route as well, through allowing people to get a diagnosis and treatment, as well as access to the appropriate support at the right time.