Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that the limited number of hospitals providing special convalescent facilities for patients supply a demand existing over a much bigger area than a regional or district health authority? The Grove convalescent hospital in my constituency receives patients from all over the north of England. Therefore, is it right that a regional or district health authority should be able to make a decision to end such facilities, regardless of the broader or national dimension, which certainly exists?
My hon. Friend will be aware that the proposals to which he refers are being formulated and there would have to be widespread consultation before any decision was made. Should there be objections from the relevant quarters, they would come to Ministers to determine and, in that event, we would take account of factors such as that which my hon. Friend mentioned.
If there is a change in the provision of convalescent beds, will the Minister seriously take into account the importance of applying rehabilitation techniques within those convalescent places? Will he make sure that there is adequate back-up from the paramedical professions?
It must be borne in mind that there has been a substantial drop in the number of convalescent beds in Britain because of changing practices, and the modern approach to rehabilitation may well entail a different way of dealing with patients after they leave hospital, which is not something that I would wish to discourage.
Is my hon. Friend aware that at the West Middlesex university hospital some 96 beds are taken up by people who, in the opinion of Hounslow and Spelthorne district health authority, need neither medical nor nursing care? As those beds are needed for other people who need treatment, will my hon. Friend see what can be done?
I shall certainly look at my hon. Friend's point. He will be aware that health authorities can consider a variety of options in such circumstances, including making contractual arrangements with private or voluntary residential or nursing homes.
Does the Minister accept that there are three options when there are insufficient beds in the National Health Service? One is that patients stay on too long, with the result that their beds are not available for those in greater need of them. The second is that they should be released into the community, but there are not enough resources and care in the community. Thirdly, that they may be forced into private facilities, as the Minister suggested a moment ago. Are not those three options unsatisfactory?
I respect the hon. Gentleman's views, but that was a wild series of generalisations. The position differs from area to area, but the general thrust has been to build up community care resources in a way that affects the issue of convalescent beds.