Health written question – answered on 12th February 2004.

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Photo of Ms Sue Doughty Ms Sue Doughty Shadow Minister (the Environment), Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on his Department's strategy for diagnosis and management of allergies in the National Health Service; what guidance is issued to primary care staff on diagnosis and treatment options; what provision is made for access to allergy specialists; and what support and funding is provided for research into the (a) causes and (b) treatment of allergies.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health

It is the role of primary care trusts in partnership with local stakeholders to decide what services to provide for their populations, including those with allergies. They are best placed to understand local health care needs and commission services to meet them.

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) published their report, "Allergy—the unmet need: a blueprint for better patient care", on 25 June 2003. We welcome the RCP report and believe it is a useful contribution to the debate on how to improve National Health Service allergy services. The report noted that allergies including asthma, rhinitis, eczema, food allergy and drug allergy are becoming increasingly common. It calls for improved NHS allergy services across the board and offered useful models about how this could be achieved.

A range of research projects on the epidemiology of allergies have recently been completed or are ongoing. The International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) was formed in 1991. Phase One measured the prevalence of childhood asthma, hayfever and atopic eczema for international comparisons. Phase Two began in 1998 and involves more intensive studies in a smaller number of countries. The Department of Health funded the UK contribution to Phase Two.

The Food Standards Agency funds research on food allergy and intolerance, with particular emphasis on severe allergies, how they occur and what causes them. A large programme of research on food intolerance and allergy, costing around £1 million a year is ongoing. King's College London is leading a £2.1 million European Commission (EC) funded prospective study of the incidence and prognosis of allergy, allergic disease and low lung function in adults living in Europe. Also, The University of Manchester is leading a £1.2 million EC-funded investigation of the prevalence, pathogenesis, treatment and prevention of sun allergy across Europe. Sun-provoked skin reactions are one of the commonest forms of allergy.

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