The Government's policy is to provide co-ordinated support as close to home as possible for children with complex health needs and their families. "Healthy Lives, Brighter Future: the strategy for children and young people's health", which was published in February of this year, built on previous commitments.
While I welcome the child health strategy, what plans do the Government have to increase the number of health visitors to assist children with long-term, complex needs? I understand that the numbers of health visitors have been cut over the past four years, so when will they be back to 2005 levels? What plans does the Minister have to provide adequate respite care for parents and other children in the family?
I know that the hon. Lady follows these considerations very closely, and I commend her for that. She will know that the Government have committed extra finance, to a total of some £340 million over this spending cycle, through both the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department of Health. We have also made clear the future priorities for both the operating framework and the present structure. First, we need to address the issues of palliative care and short breaks. Secondly, we need to look at the clinical pathways and put in place individual care plans. That addresses precisely the point that the hon. Lady made about health visitors, for instance, and the complex needs of these young people. Finally, we must address the question of managing medicines in schools. Those three sets of priorities have been identified by parents, people in the voluntary sector and the young people themselves. [ Interruption. ] If Mr. Lansley would just stop talking from a sedentary position, I would be able to answer the question. The day that the Conservative party provides answers to anything will truly be a damascene conversion.
I return to the final point made by Ann Winterton about health visitors. I can confirm that the work being taken forward by the Government in the spring of this year will concentrate on the valuable role that health visitors play in meeting the complex needs of these young people.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, when we talk about improving the care provided for children with complex care needs, we should focus particularly on respite care and day care, for the parents as well as for the child? The press covers far too many cases of parents whose lives have come to tragic ends because of the enormous stress and strain associated with providing care, over a very long period indeed, for a child with the extensive disabilities that we often see. We need to focus on the parents as well, do we not?
I entirely agree with the points that my hon. Friend makes, which relate particularly to the work being done on end-of-life care, and specifically to the requirements on which primary care trusts have been asked to focus, with regard to short breaks, and palliative and end-of-life care, for very vulnerable young people and children.
One group of children and young people with complex health needs consists of those who require high-tech, expensive communication aids to express their hopes, needs, fears and interests. I welcome the proposed joint commissioning pathfinders, to which the Government have sensibly committed. Will the right hon. Lady confirm that they will be taken forward with all due haste, and that the Government will look at other aspects of joint commissioning, and models for the provision of alternative and augmentative communication for children who are desperately in need of it?
I commend the hon. Gentleman on his excellent report, the recommendations of which the Government accepted. I can confirm that we will act on the specific points relating to the individual, and the very important support and care that individuals may need. We will also look at his recommendations on wider issues to do with speech, language and communication, and so at the collaboration that needs to take place beyond the health service, particularly through local area agreements, to make sure that we deliver on the recommendations that he rightly made.
The Secretary of State pledged in his first speech as Health Secretary to meet the care needs of people with a learning disability, but in the light of today's shocking findings by the ombudsman on the NHS's failures in long-term care for young people with learning disabilities, when will the Minister of State and the Secretary of State convert the words of January's strategy—itself an admission of the failure of the Government's 2001 "Valuing People" document—into the action that is so urgently needed if we are to avoid a repeat of the shocking discrimination and damage suffered by those with learning disabilities?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman; the report is shocking. The Government are determined to make progress by accepting recommendations previously made to us, by concentrating specifically on care plans, and by working with GPs on identifying issues, early intervention and providing the correct support. The Minister of State, my hon. Friend Phil Hope, has today clearly indicated our determination to make sure that the very highest standards are available to all those who access our health services.