The programme of major hospital building projects announced by my right hon. Friend on 2nd May 1977 will provide for approximately 450 additional geriatric beds in Scotland. The major programme also makes provision for some 1,000 geriatric beds to replace existing facilities. Health boards finance from their own capital resources smaller schemes which will also provide new and replacement beds.
Since financial circumstances are stretched, would it not be a good thing for the Secretary of State to encourage local authorities to expand home help services as a means of alleviating pressure on homes and geriatric provision, given that the Strathclyde survey last year showed that one could provide six home helps for two hours a day, seven days a week, for the cost of one geriatric bed?
In Scotland the pattern has traditionally been that we care for our old people in hospitals. That is why we have 15 hospital beds per thousand of the population in Scotland compared with 10 per thousand in England and Wales. This is a matter of balance between community back-up facilities and hospital facilities. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are constantly considering the matter.
Will the Minister ask for a report on the situation at Mearnskirk Hospital, where good temporary accommodation is about to be affected? Is the Minister aware that if that accommodation were left standing it could, since staff are available, be immediately translated into geriatric accommodation?
In Scotland there are 147·7 hospital beds per thousand population. We are extremely near the target level, and in some areas, once the new capital building programme has been completed, we shall be in excess of that target. However, I take note of the right hon. Lady's proposition and I shall look at it, but I cannot hold out any great hopes or firm commitment.
We have asked area health boards—and we are getting a good response from them—to switch resources from the acute side of medicine, without necessarily running it down, and to give greater priority to long-stay geriatric and psycho-geriatric patients and mental deficiency hospitals. Those are top priority, and we have asked area health boards to take account of that policy.