Care (Older People)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 12:16 pm on 6th September 2011.

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Photo of Paul Burstow Paul Burstow The Minister of State, Department of Health 12:16 pm, 6th September 2011

If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I want to ensure that I answer two or three of the key points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford. One key issue concerned the role of a Minister for older people. I certainly share my hon. Friend’s view that we must ensure cross-governmental dialogue and gain a much clearer understanding of the interdependencies between different policies and actions across the Government as they affect older people. The Government are not currently minded to appoint a Minister with specific responsibility for older people, but my hon. Friend has made a number of suggestions that could be a way to look at the issue. I undertake to take the point away and discuss with colleagues how we might join up services in a better way. A number of colleagues across Government have various responsibilities and we must find ways to ensure a clear articulation of the Government’s approach to ageing and an ageing society. We must ensure that that happens not only nationally but locally.

It would be remiss of me not to pick up on the comments about Southern Cross. I did not quite catch the second question, so the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury may wish to remind me of it so that I can answer. She asked about landlords, and the answer is that work to ensure that the transfers could take place required that measure to be concluded. As I understand, all landlords involved have now been identified, but if I am misinformed I will write to the hon. Lady and give her the details.

The hon. Lady also asked about home closures. In the past, I have said that when Southern Cross first made its proposals for restructuring the organisation, it suggested that the medium-term future—the next three or four years—would involve a limited closure programme. It did not specify a number and has not done so since. In some ways that programme is no longer the programme being followed; Southern Cross is effectively managing its own demise and passing homes on to new operators, which will have to make judgments about the economic efficiency of those businesses and the welfare of the people living in the homes, and decide whether they can carry on. We must have good advice and support to manage any closures that take place, which is why I have said on a number of occasions that I welcome the work done by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services.

The hon. Member for Dartford raised an important point about the tenure to which we must give serious consideration. I do not want to make a policy announcement about that today because the issue is complicated. We do, however, need to look at how we can give people a greater sense of confidence in the place they consider their home, and ensure that in the future they cannot be lightly tipped out to find a new care home. I will write to the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury about the second question to ensure that she gets an answer.

I appreciate the warm words of support—broadly speaking—that have come from all parties about the Dilnot inquiry and the appetite to get on with action. I will ensure that that appetite is well understood across Government. We are clear that the report submitted by Dilnot in July makes an excellent contribution to providing a framework or scaffold around which we can take forward a wider reform of social care for the future. We will soon set out a further process of consultation not only about the details of implementing the Dilnot inquiry—he sets out a number of parameters in his report that are up for further discussion, not least the one mentioned earlier in an intervention—but about the wider issues of quality in social care that were referred to by the hon. Members for Wirral South

(Alison McGovern) and for Newton Abbot. We will approach all those issues in a combined way that will lead to a White Paper next April—that answers the question raised by the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford.

It is above my pay grade to announce what is in the Queen’s Speech; that has to be someone else’s job—probably Her Majesty, when she sets it out in detail, and the Prime Minister and the Cabinet who make those decisions. The Government remain committed to legislating at the earliest opportunity to bring in the Law Commission’s reforms and address the question of funding reform. I hope that answers the points of concern that have been raised.

The hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford also mentioned housing, and she was right to talk about choice. That underscores the need for a cross-departmental approach to ageing and an ageing society, and I will raise her comments with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Local Government. Given his responsibilities for supporting people, it is important that I do that.

Prevention underlies many points that have been raised today and there is much we can do both to prevent admissions into hospital appropriately and to manage hospital discharges better. The increased roll-out and use of personal budgets will play a part in that, and will provide people with more control over the packages and nature of the care they receive.

The contribution made by the voluntary sector and charities has rightly been highlighted in this debate, in particular the role that such organisations can and do play in tackling social isolation. They also provide practical, low-level help—for example, helping to change a light bulb, which sometimes seems to take for ever. We must ensure that communities feel confident to give that help and are given support to provide mutual aid. Through our work on the big society we are determined to see that through. Local councils have an important role in improving health and well-being through commissioning those low-level services, and that has been well described in the debate.

The hon. Member for Newton Abbot expressed some concern about the role of the CQC. Like her, I met representatives from the care sector to discuss their views about what will soon be the first full year of operation for the CQC. The CQC was established in 2009 but has been fully operational only since October last year. Not all of what it does and will do has been explained to care providers as clearly as it should have been, but some of those defects are now being remedied. Just last week I had the opportunity to visit the CQC and see the work it is doing to establish a new, much simpler website. That website will provide a lot more information to providers about how issues of compliance with essential standards are being addressed.