My Lords, the amendment calls for a commissioner for older people. When I moved such an amendment in Committee, I suggested the role as a freestanding one. In this amendment, I seek to have it subsumed into the agenda of HealthWatch England, requiring a commissioner to be a member of HealthWatch England but exercising this function entirely independently.
After a fruitful meeting with the noble Earl, Lord Howe, I realise that there are certain limitations around this suggestion-also put to me by other Members of this House-to which I shall come in a moment. However, first let me briefly revise the need for such a position. On every hand, the calls get stronger for the case of the old to be heard. Earlier this week, some 1,000 older and disabled people came to lobby their MPs about the crisis in social care. The Care and Support Alliance, which organised the event, represents more than 60 charities and organisations across the social care and health sectors. MPs heard stories from some of the estimated 800,000 people needing care who are currently not receiving it. Recent reports from the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Commission on Dignity in Care have reported neglect and abuse. All this since the Committee stage of the Bill. Older patients take up most of the beds in our hospitals where they are patronisingly accused of bed blocking. Given the demographics of a growing population, this situation is set to get worse. No one now doubts that there is a growing national crisis.
All these commissions and reports are fine and often very thorough. However, they tell us about "them", the old-a category of the population who need to be dealt with and have their needs met. But the old are not a lumpen mass; they are each as highly individual as those in any other age group. They need someone to speak in different terms and in a different tone about, "what we need" and, "what I am asking for". A commissioner for older people would answer that need and relate directly to the personal stories that arrived in my post bag when I was the Voice of Older People. I feel confident in saying this because Wales already has an Older People's Commissioner-Ruth Marks, who has a fine record of touring the country, visiting care homes, day centres and individuals, and bringing individual concerns to bear on the Government in Cardiff.
Let me now come to the limitations of this role. The NHS Future Forum report states:
"If the fundamental purpose of the Government's proposed changes to NHS-putting the patient first-is to be made a reality, the system that emerges must be grounded in systematic patient involvement".
The problem here is the word, "patient". Older people are indeed patients, but their needs extend much further than this. As the noble Earl discussed with me in our very useful meeting, the needs of the old extend much further. They extend to matters that concern not only health but work and pensions, housing and transport. They extend across all other activities of life and all departments of government. I am wary of confining the function too tightly within the health Bill agenda. I take the noble Earl's argument, and other Members of the House have expressed similar concerns. I would value their views on this matter put on the record.
However, we have to start somewhere. Some initiative has to start the ball rolling. People want their voice, our voice, a voice to speak out about our needs. The impulse to establish such a post is right, but the move to have a commissioner for older people has to be triggered somewhere. I hope that it will be triggered by the amendment. I beg to move.