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The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): Intermediate care will be provided in a range of settings, including care homes. Maximising the contribution of all partners in health and social care will be central to building up our capacity in intermediate care. That is why intermediate care is highlighted in the concordat between the NHS and the private sector as a key area for future co-operation.
Mr. Swayne: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is his policy of loading regulation, and the threat of more regulation, on the private care home sector that is responsible for the blight in that industry? For that reason, developers are queuing throughout the south of England to build on the land occupied by residential and care homes. The loss of those beds will blight the NHS, especially during winter, for years to come.
Mr. Hutton: I tried to anticipate the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, and I succeeded. His point about standards is completely wrong. I understood that the Opposition Front Bench and the Conservative party supported national minimum standards for care homes. I know that there is an argument about the level at which the standards should be pitched. We are determined to ensure that they will be introduced safely, sensibly and realistically. We have already made announcements about the key aspects of these critical standards. I shall give the hon. Gentleman a quote--he may not like to hear it--
Mr. George Stevenson (Stoke-on-Trent, South): Does my hon. Friend agree that intermediate care is a vital element in community or care packages, especially for elderly people? Does my hon. Friend agree also that a rapid development of intermediate care services needs to be pursued throughout the country, which means more co-ordination and co-operation between health services and social services? In spite of the increase in the social services budget, is my hon. Friend concerned that the widening gap between health service budgets and social services budgets might frustrate the objective?
Mr. Hutton: I would be concerned if that were the case. My hon. Friend will be aware that we are strongly encouraging both health and social care providers to pool their resources, to ensure that we provide properly integrated care services for older people. It is a common cause for concern--we have all heard it in our constituencies and at our surgeries--that, although older people are the biggest supporters of the NHS, they are often among its greatest critics. We have never been able to put in place a range of effective services that can support the objectives that my hon. Friend and I would want to pursue. The Government's policy is entirely right and it is closing a serious gap in services. If we use the new resources that are becoming available and pool them, we can make a significant difference.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): It is impossible, even in the constituency of the Secretary of State, for people to avoid the consequences of Government policy. What discussions has the hon. Gentleman had with the 135 residents of council residential homes who have had to move because there is no money to renovate the homes to the standards demanded by the Government?
Mr. Hutton: The hon. Gentleman needs to be careful in his criticisms of these developments. Of course there will be change in any market; that is the nature of markets, and something that he and his hon. Friends espouse. We need effectively and sensibly to manage the changes that are taking place. If there is a need for older residents to move from one care home to another, that must be done sensibly and carefully. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will examine carefully what is happening. There has obviously been a reduction in the number of beds in the private residential and nursing care sector, and further figures will come out next week that will confirm that. At the same time, we are seeing a necessary and long-overdue investment in better home care services that can avoid the need for unnecessary admissions into residential care.
I would hope that the hon. Gentleman and the Conservative party would support the idea of encouraging greater independence at home and providing the necessary nursing and social care support that can allow that to happen. That is precisely what older people want.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Denham): Health support workers, such as health care assistants, operating department practitioners, pharmacy technicians and others, make a crucial contribution to patient care. The NHS plan underlines our commitment to acknowledging and supporting them in developing and expanding their roles, and to publishing proposals for their effective regulation. We have now received a report on the subject by De Montfort university, which we are currently considering.
Helen Jones: I thank my hon. Friend for his reply and acknowledge the progress that has been made, but does he not agree that, when the Care Standards Act 2000 gives the power to introduce regulation for care support workers, it is nonsense that health care assistants doing a similar job in the NHS are not registered? Should not our priority be the protection of patients? I hope that my hon. Friend will act quickly to end the anomalies and give recognition to the important work done by health care assistants.
Mr. Denham: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that issue. We have made a commitment to effective regulation, because we recognise the need to ensure that patients are protected from members of staff who have dubious histories. We are anxious to address the issue, which is why we commissioned the report from De Montfort university. My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the General Social Care Council, which is one of several measures that the Labour Government were forced to introduce after years of neglect by the Conservatives: we have had to regulate social care, introduce regulation for private health care, strengthen the powers of the General Medical Council and introduce annual appraisal for doctors. All those measures should have been introduced years ago, but were neglected by the Conservatives. We have not yet done everything necessary, but we are making progress on a big agenda.
Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth): Is the Minister aware that many health support workers are also practitioners of complementary medicine? Given his remarks about regulation of other sections of the medical profession, does he not think that the time has come to set up a central register of complementary medical practitioners, so that accurate information is available to members of the general public seeking treatment?
Mr. Denham: I admire the persistence and imagination with which the hon. Gentleman raises the issue of complementary medicine at every turn. He will be aware that the term "complementary medicine" covers an extraordinarily broad range of practice, from therapies
Mr. Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton): Following last week's announcement of additional resources for the NHS, can those professional support workers who are state registered, such as medical laboratory scientists, look forward to receiving levels of pay that are commensurate with their skills, the high qualifications that their jobs require and the role that they play as part of the NHS diagnostic team?
Mr. Denham: As part of the three-year pay deal, we have already taken steps to increase, quite significantly, the pay of at least lower grade pathology laboratory staff. That is an important step in the direction my hon. Friend advocates. He will be aware that we are working with the unions on "Agenda for Change", which sets out a new pay system for the NHS, which holds out to some staff the prospect of moving into the pay review body system, and to staff grades as a whole a proper job evaluation system, better career progression and fairer rewards for all NHS staff.