NHS: Front-line and Specialised Services — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:24 pm on 13th January 2011.

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Photo of Lord Touhig Lord Touhig Labour 5:24 pm, 13th January 2011

My Lords, I am pleased to be here for this debate, if only to have listened to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, because she spoke from the heart about the National Health Service and her family's personal understanding of and reception by the NHS recently. She was also able to speak with some authority as someone who has been involved in the provision of healthcare. I look forward to her future contributions on this matter.

I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, because I, too, want to relate my remarks to dementia. She does a tremendous job in chairing and leading the all party group.

If you are a man who has had a stroke and as a result you have no recollection of the wife you have been married to for 30 years, and then you develop dementia, you have no voice. If you are a woman who one day stops talking to her family and has not spoken a word in 18 months, retreating into a valley of silence, you have no voice. If you are a dementia sufferer who is doubly incontinent and you have no downstairs shower and toilet, and the only day of the week when you can be sure that you will be made really clean is the day you go to a healthcare centre, you have no voice. As Parliament, at the behest of the Government, prepares for a major shake-up in the provision of NHS services, I believe that we must be the voice for dementia sufferers and their carers.

Three-quarters of a million of our fellow citizens have dementia and it is forecast that by 2025 the number will be over a million. I welcome the success of my noble friend Lord Turnberg in securing this debate so we can press the Government to tell us how front-line specialist services will be protected in this shake-up. We currently spend £20 billion a year on dementia and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, pointed out, one in three people over the age of 65 will die with dementia-yet currently only one in three receives a formal diagnosis. As a member of the Public Accounts Committee in the other place, I well remember a National Audit Office report in 2007 which found that money was being wasted on poor quality care. The report went on to say that rates of diagnosis were low, cost-effective interventions were not widely available, and health and social services were often disjointed and inefficient. A further NAO report this year said that the National Dementia Strategy for England, first published in 2009, was comprehensive and ambitious. It found that there was early progress towards implementation, but warned that not enough priority was being given to dementia. There has been some progress, but not enough.

I share the worries of the Alzheimer's Society, which is concerned that the pace of structural change that is going to come in the NHS has the potential to undermine the progress we have made so far. That is all the more reason why these changes, as the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, said, have to be managed very carefully indeed. When I was a Minister in the previous Government, I well remember the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, saying to me that for him healthcare was not about the doctor, the nurse or the latest high-tech scanner, it was about the patient. Of course, he said, we need the doctor, the nurse and the high-tech scanner, but the focus the whole time must be on the patient-and that, I believe, is right.

Over the past couple of years, we have seen increasing knowledge and ability among many NHS commissioning managers in commissioning better and improved care for dementia. However, the number of people with these particular skills is relatively small. It is vital, therefore, that the pace of structural change which will come about as a result of the Government's NHS changes does not undermine this progress. Valuable dementia commissioning has been developed and must be retained. Perhaps the Minister can say something about this. GP commissioning will play a major role in the future, but only 31 per cent of GPs believe they have received sufficient basic and post-qualification training to diagnose and manage dementia. Can the Minister say what specific steps the Government will take to ensure that the small pool of dementia care commissioning expertise is not lost, a point well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross?

A recent survey showed that only 5 per cent of GPs had discussed the national dementia strategy with their PCT commissioners. What is important, therefore, is that the current coterminosity of boundaries for commissioning health and social care is not lost. People with dementia are major beneficiaries of effective joined-up working between the NHS and social care because they use the two services. In order to continue to meet the needs of people with dementia and their carers, can the Minister assure us that the new GP commissioning arrangements will result in a comprehensive primary care response, including improved home care, so that admission to the acute sector is used only where it is necessary?

We can only imagine what it must be like to suffer with dementia. A dementia sufferer is like a prisoner locked away by an illness of the mind in a world of their own. That is why we must be the voice for those people and their carers.