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New arrangements for national health service responsibilities for continuing health care, which includes rehabilitation and recovery services, were introduced in April 1996. Since that date, all health authorities have been required to have in place local policies and eligibility criteria for continuing health care.
Does the Minister agree that the Government have failed elderly patients by closing thousands of NHS beds for the elderly and by not, in spite of what he says, providing the convalescent and recuperative care beds required to allow people to stay in hospital until they are strong enough to return to their own homes? Does he also agree that the Government have turned the care of the elderly into a competitive marketplace, and have put price and profit before decency and dignity in old age?
No, I do not agree with a word of what the hon. Lady has said, because it is totally divorced from the truth. She seems to forget that the continuing care challenge fund has provided £16 million in the current year, and will next year provide £20 million, plus £40 million of matching funds from local and health authorities, including £11 million for rehabilitation and recovery services. The gimmick that the Labour party has announced in the past month on recuperation is ridiculous. It proposes a pilot scheme costing £500,000, which is the amount that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is giving, through the continuing care fund, to the constituency and health authority area of the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair). That excludes the rest of the country, which will receive the other money.
Would not more resources be available for rehabilitation services and care in the community if local councils, especially those controlled by the Labour party, were prepared to make more use of private residential homes, rather than boost bed usage in their own homes? That costs the taxpayer a lot of money, which could be better used to provide care for more elderly people in the community.
My hon. Friend is right. It has been shown that, on average, a place per person per week in a local authority-owned home in England costs £40 more than a place in the private sector. It seems odd that the Labour party is so antagonistic towards getting better value for money while providing the highest quality of care for the elderly, so that more money can be saved and ploughed back into care for the elderly.
Does the Minister accept that 9,000 NHS beds for elderly people have been lost since 1990—beds for nursing care, rehabilitation and convalescence? Are not old people in need of care simply seen as bed blockers by hospitals driven to maximise their business income? How can this Government, who have abandoned health care for old people to the market, be trusted with the NHS for a fifth term of office?
The hon. Lady seems to be divorced from reality. The Government's policy is being implemented day in, day out—despite the smiles of the hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), who should realise that this is not a funny subject. Care for the elderly is at the highest level possible and record amounts of money are being spent. It is time local authorities—which are mostly Labour-controlled—started to work with health authorities in using the continuity care challenge fund money to undo the problems of bed blocking and finding proper care for the elderly, who deserve it.