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Minister counters royal college claims about NHS allergy services

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 08 July 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:72
  1. Bruno Rushforth
  1. BMJ

    The NHS is “coping” with allergy control, the health minister Dr Stephen Ladyman told a recent meeting of the health select committee, despite evidence to the same committee from the Royal College of Physicians suggesting that services were “totally inadequate.”

    Dr Ladyman, under-secretary of state at the Department of Health, defended the current approach to the provision of allergy services, saying: “On the evidence we have the service is coping.”

    But he acknowledged the constant drive to improve services: “The NHS needs to keep pace with both the change in medical knowledge and change in prevalence [of allergies], and that's what we're attempting to do.”

    Dr Ladyman said that his department would be working with the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, the Food Standards Agency, the NHS Improvement Agency, and the Healthcare Commission, among others, to help meet the needs of patients with allergy.

    His views are completely at odds with the Royal College of Physicians, which said in its evidence that: “The college believes that allergy services in the NHS are totally inadequate and cannot cope with the rising amount and increasing severity of allergy in the UK. An acute shortage of allergy consultants and specialist centres has meant patients face major difficulties in obtaining accurate diagnosis, advice and treatment.”

    David Amess, Conservative MP for Southend West, told Dr Ladyman that the Department of Health's evidence on funding sources for specialist allergy centres was a complete contradiction of previous evidence to the committee from clinicians. “Someone is being economical with the truth,” he said.

    The United Kingdom has one of the highest rates of allergy disease in the world, according to the Royal College of Physicians. In any one year, 12 million people in the United Kingdom are likely to be seeking treatment for allergy. Potentially life threatening allergies, such as peanut allergy, are increasing and now affect 1 in 70 children.

    The Royal College of Physicians said that the United Kingdom currently has only six major centres, all in England, where consultant allergists offer a full time service, including expertise in all types of allergy problems. Workforce calculations by the college suggest the need for 520 allergy consultants for adult and paediatric services. Currently there are only 26.5 whole time equivalent consultant allergists in England and none in Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland, its evidence states.

    Last year a report on allergy services by the Royal College of Physicians said that the NHS was failing people with allergy and that the burden of allergy disease had reached epidemic proportions (BMJ 2003;326:1415).

    Dr Ladyman was appearing before the health select committee alongside Patience Wilson, head of programme for the national service framework for long term conditions. Muriel Simmons, chief executive of Allergy UK, David Reading, the campaign director for the Anaphylaxis Campaign, and Dr Shuaib Nasser, consultant allergist, together with several academic allergists, appeared as witnesses before the committee at a previous session.

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