HEALTH – ARTIFICIAL LIMBS – 9 January 2001

Dr Julian Lewis: Pursuant to his letter to the hon. Member for New Forest, East of 7 December, what progress his Department has made in making artificial limbs with lifelike silicone coatings available to NHS patients?

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr John Hutton): In cases in which silicone cosmesis is clinically appropriate, we wish to see equitable access across the country. In 2001-02 and recurrently, funding will therefore be provided for the NHS to increase existing provision of high to low definition cosmesis which, in future, will be available through a new contract from the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency.

[SUPPLEMENTARY:] I welcome the Minister's response, but may I express concern about whether that provision will ever appear? Does he recall the case of my constituent, a little girl called Laura Giddings, whose lower leg was blown off in the Planet Hollywood terrorist outrage in South Africa? Does he recall the campaign that was waged throughout the second half of 1999 to enable the parents of children in that position to get realistic-looking limbs for them? Does he recall the meeting that we had in October that year, and the letter that he wrote in November 1999? In that letter, he said:

"I am looking at ways in which we can make improved silicone cosmesis available through the NHS."

If the Minister is saying that silicone cosmesis is going to come, but that he does not know when that will be, so far down the line and so close to a general election, will he at least reconsider a proposal which he always refused to consider in the past, and allow parents who choose to get more lifelike limbs for their children at least to be given the value of the free limb as a contribution to the cost of the more expensive limb, which gives the child a chance to look normal? Otherwise, it is just more warm words and more great headlines for the Government, but no real action whatever.

Mr Hutton: We have just had a classic example of an hon. Member reading out a pre-rehearsed question and completely disregarding the answer given by a Minister from the Dispatch Box. The hon. Gentleman was clearly not expecting me to announce that, from April 2001 onwards, the new high definition/low definition cosmesis will be available on the NHS – [Interruption.] I am sorry, but that is going to happen. I know that the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and hon. Friends do not like that, but I must point out to him that his party had nearly 20 years in which to make that provision available, but they never did. I have just announced that the new cosmesis will be available on the NHS, and it is a great shame that the hon. Gentleman could not find any words to welcome that important announcement.