Elderly People: Powers of Attorney and Living Wills — Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:40 pm on 12th January 2015.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 8:40 pm, 12th January 2015

I will write to the noble Baroness about that. The Standing Commission on Carers, which represents the needs of carers to the government policy-making process, is a body we are working closely with. It will help us channel our new statement of rights directly to carers, providing them with an understanding of the rights of the person they care for under the law.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, spoke about the need for professional training. I agree that that is vital. Health and social care professionals need to learn the basics of the MCA through their initial training and to keep updated on this through continuing professional development. Health Education England provides national leadership for planning and developing the whole healthcare workforce. The mandate set for it by the Department of Health specifically states that Health Education England should,

“work with … partners … to improve skills and capability to respond … to the needs of people who may lack capacity as well as maximise the opportunities for people to be involved in decisions about their care”.

The noble Lord, Lord Joffe, indicated that he felt that there was a lack of government leadership in this area. I would defend, in fact, our leadership record.

We do not want to shy away in the least from our responsibilities when it comes to supporting better implementation of the Act. The legislation underpinning the MCA has been widely praised. Indeed, only a few months ago, we were visited by a delegation from the Swedish Government, who are looking to learn from our legislation as they draft their own. The problem is not the framework. The problem is a lack of understanding at the local level on the ground. It is the Government’s belief that the primary drivers of better implementation of the MCA are local organisations—hospitals, care homes, local banks and solicitors. That is why we intend to make the new national mental capacity forum, which we are setting up, predominantly outward looking. Its emphasis will be on forging collaborations, but then taking these out into the country and putting actions in place at the local level. I would be happy to write further on that, when I do write, as I shall, after this debate.

I have overshot my time but, in conclusion, I emphasise that planning for a time in later life where we are unable to make our own decisions is something that we are all likely to benefit from and which can ease the burden on our loved ones. Unfortunately, as the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, reminded us, I know many people find this type of conversation uncomfortable—even morbid, perhaps. That is to an extent understandable: no one wants to dwell on the possibility of a serious debilitating disease or, indeed, on death itself.

Ultimately, however, planning for the future can be greatly empowering. It can provide a degree of comfort as we approach a vulnerable period in our lives, it can allow us to determine how we are treated—which itself can improve our well-being and health outcomes—and it can provide comfort to our friends and family. The Government are determined to support our citizens in this regard, and the thoughts and expert advice of noble Lords are, as always, most welcome.