Ministers are to issue guidelines to 'ensure greater national consistency in the uptake' of the controversial multiple sclerosis drug beta interferon. The government was responding to pressure from MPs and patients' groups over inconsistencies in the availability of the drug. Harry Barnes, MP for North East Derbyshire, claimed that only the 'top eight' on the list of sufferers in north Derbyshire received the drug, and that 'reassessments' had taken more than 40 sufferers 'off the list'. (Hansard, 10 Nov, col 131)

A recent parliamentary answer suggests, in part, why the NHS resource allocation formula has been changed to account for the extra cost of English language translation services. East Kent HA, which has had an influx of asylum seekers from Eastern Europe, has spent£19,000 providing an asylum seekers' nurse and£7,000 on interpreting services, health minister Alan Milburn said. (Hansard, 9 Nov, col 83)

MPs are tracking concerns about the costs to the NHS of meeting EU working- time regulations which allow benefits to agency and bank nurses. A parliamentary written answer revealed that the proportion of nurses employed on a part- time basis in England, including bank staff, was 47 per cent at September 1997. In 1996-97, the NHS spent£191.3m employing agency nurses, according to another answer. (Hansard, 9 Nov, col 83; 4 Nov, col 620)

The handful of MPs who put their names to an early day motion supporting the legalisation of cannabis for medical use could hardly be faulted for lack of scientific expertise. As well as medical doctor Peter Brand, MP for Isle of Wight, there were at least three chemistry PhDs, and two former lab technicians, including Ken Livingstone. They backed the Lords' science and technology committee report which said doctors ought to be able to prescribe cannabis on a named-patient basis as an unlicensed drug. (EDM, 11 Nov)