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Nursing and Residential Homes

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 12:19 pm on 3rd April 2001.

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Photo of John Hutton John Hutton Minister of State, Department of Health, Minister of State (Department of Health) (Health) 12:19 pm, 3rd April 2001

I guess that that is something we will never know because there will not be a Conservative Government to put that theory to the test. I am as concerned as the hon. Gentleman to minimise bureaucracy, and what can loosely be described as red tape. I am not in favour of a red tape system of regulation for the care home sector and that is why we have worked closely with care home providers to produce national minimum standards. Contrary to what he says, such standards have been widely welcomed by the care home sector. They represent a substantial step forward, particularly in the difficult area of fiscal standards. We have tried to compromise to reach a sensible set of working standards that will improve the quality of care, which we all want, without imposing unworkable burdens. That is why the original proposal of 10 sq m as the minimum useful floor space has been reduced to 9.3 sq m where there is compensating space elsewhere in the care home; that is a sensible compromise. We are not trying to drive anyone out of business; we want to support diversity and choice of provision across the sector.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey's point about spending was well made. I share his concern that there must be adequate resources available to local authorities. As I am sure he knows, there will be a 6 per cent. cash increase in resources available to Southwark social services--a sufficient resource envelope that is available to the local council to address some of his concerns. I am aware of the concerns that he raised about the two care homes. I will make sure that my officials maintain close contact with Southwark council to ensure that his concerns, and those of his constituents, are properly addressed as work progresses.

The training issue is also important. The hon. Gentleman might want to examine the national minimum standards--I see that he has that information with him. He will see that standard No. 28 addresses how we might improve the training qualifications of staff in care homes. We have said that from 2005, 50 per cent. of care staff, excluding registered nurses, should have a proper professional qualification--initially a national vocational qualification at level 2. That will be a substantial improvement. I accept that there will be resource implications attached to that, which is why we have begun funding the national training strategy about which the Training Organisation for Personal Social Services published information last year. That will be a three-year programme of investment and we will examine ways of proceeding with such investment. We must start somewhere, and we would obviously not have chosen to start from our current position where we find that there are not enough properly trained care staff. I think that the hon. Gentleman's description of care standards in Southwark is pretty accurate, and could apply to other parts of the country. We must start from this position, but we are making improvements.

Wider concerns have been raised by many hon. Members relating to the general efficacy and efficiency of the existing registration and inspection arrangements. We changed the law because we are not satisfied that the present arrangements are sufficiently independent or robust. The hon. Members for Runnymede and Weybridge and for Isle of Wight described the dilemma of local authorities finding themselves in the catch-22 position of being inspector and regulators, while also being commissioners and providers of care. Those are difficult roles to discharge simultaneously, which is why we have removed the inspecting-registration function from health and local authorities and given it to the new National Care Standards Commission.