Report (6th Day)

Part of Health and Social Care Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 8th March 2012.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 4:15 pm, 8th March 2012

My Lords, while, for reasons which I shall explain later, I do not feel able to accept this amendment, I say immediately to the noble Baroness that she has raised a very important issue with which the Government are in complete sympathy.

It is important for older people to have a strong voice to champion their interests and to ensure that their needs are addressed in public services. Both I and my honourable friend the Minister of State for Care Services have met the noble Baroness over recent months to discuss this issue and have been struck forcefully by the powerful case that she has made. As she is aware, my honourable friend would like to continue these discussions with her, as we are particularly grateful for the expertise that she brings to this area.

I am sure noble Lords will agree that older people are affected by a wide range of issues-not only health and social care but areas of policy such as housing and pensions. The Government recognise this. The UK Advisory Forum on Ageing, co-chaired by the Minister of State for Care Services and the Minister of State for Pensions, provides advice across government on the additional steps that they and their partners need to take to improve well-being and independence in later life.

In health, a range of functions in relation to older people are already carried out in this country. That should not surprise us because we all know that a very large proportion of the NHS budget is accounted for by healthcare delivered to the elderly. The Department of Health is pursuing a number of initiatives to improve the care of older people in hospitals, care homes and other settings. These initiatives cover all stages of the care pathway-from helping individuals to stay healthy and to stay in the community all the way through to end-of-life care. For example, the department already has a National Clinical Director for Older People, Professor David Oliver, whose remit is to promote the better care of older people across the NHS and social services, and to provide clinical leadership for cross-government work on older people.

My noble friend Lady Barker rightly stressed the key role of social care in relation to older people. Looking across the spectrum of health and social care, each health and well-being board will be required to develop a joint strategic needs assessment, identifying the current and future needs of the local population, and a joint health and well-being strategy to set out how those needs will be met. I can say to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, that it is intended that health and well-being boards will bring together the key local commissioners to enable them, first, to consider the total resource available to improve their population's health and well-being, and then to come to a joint understanding about how those resources can best be invested. This will undoubtedly help to encourage a more integrated local service which is better able to meet the needs of older people by joining up NHS and social care services. I hope that that offers some reassurance to the noble Baroness that the voice and needs of older people in health is absolutely a priority for this Government.

Amendment 231A proposes that the role of commissioner for older people should fall on a member of HealthWatch England. I am afraid that I cannot agree that that would be an effective approach. The first reason is the one that I mentioned earlier: the role of an old people's champion goes wider than health and social care. Equally importantly, the job of HealthWatch England will be to carry out functions in relation to people. The word "people" is a deliberately broad term and its ordinary meaning would include older people of course, so we do not feel that it would be appropriate to give a member of HealthWatch England a remit for older people, which would give additional weight to one group of people over another. It could also lead to calls for a commissioner for other groups like those with learning disabilities and it would be difficult to see where the list would stop.

Although I completely understand the concern that older people have often lacked a voice within the system, and the need to ensure that they are not overlooked, we do not agree that the singling out of this group over others, within the context of HealthWatch, would be the best way to achieve that. We want to address the concerns of the noble Baroness but not in this way. In the light of that and on the basis that she will continue to have discussions with my honourable friend on the issue in a wider sense, I hope that she will feel sufficiently reassured to withdraw her amendment.