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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ms Hazel Blears): The most recent monitoring figures from health authorities across England indicate that at 31 October, the average uptake was 52 per cent. among people aged 65 and over. That compares with 46 per cent. for the same time last yeara 6 per cent.
Mr. O'Brien: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, but it shows that there is still a long way to go in ensuring that the majority of vulnerable people receive immunisation. Will she consider the fact that some doctors' practices are rigid in making arrangements for flu immunisation? We require more flexibility from them, so that people can attend when they are available, which would ensure that that percentage increases. Will she take action to ensure that practices consider the matter and develop more flexibility in offering immunisation?
Ms Blears: My hon. Friend is right that it is important that as many people as possible take up the offer of immunisation. I understand that about 12,000 people die of flu each winter and that the excess deaths every winter closely follow flu patterns, so people should take their vaccination opportunities. Many doctors now undertake more flexible and imaginative schemes that provide immunisation as and when people want it. They also provide immunisation not only to over-65s, but to those with chronic heart disease, asthma, chronic renal disease and diabetes and to people in long-stay residential care. Flu immunisations can reduce hospital admissions by up to 60 per cent., so we want to promote them as much as we can.
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): I declare an interest in the issue and welcome the comparative increase in flu vaccination, but will the 53 per cent. turn out to be 65 per cent., as this is relatively late in the year? In any case, is not 65 per cent. a rather low minimum standard to accept? I congratulate the Minister on the progress that the Government have made, but will she bear those points in mind, because the issue is vital? If all over-65s in particular could have a flu jab, the problems that our hospitals face in winter could be overcome.
Ms Blears: I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman wants us not only to set targets, but to make them higher every year. Last year, we were 6 per cent. behind where we are this year, although we still reached our 60 per cent. target, so we are more than likely to reach 65 per cent. over the winter. We have provided an extra 1.3 million doses of vaccine this year, so there is no question of any shortage.
We want staff who work in social care and local authority residential homes to have access to vaccine. That is also the case for NHS staff, because if we can ensure that they are immunised, they will be less likely to take time off work, making them available to care for people in areas of peak pressure during the winter months. I am confident that we shall reach and exceed our target, and I am delighted to have the hon. Gentleman's support.
Liz Blackman (Erewash): Staff are key players in tackling winter pressures, for the reasons that my hon. Friend outlined. Does the Department hold current figures for the take-up of flu vaccination by health professionals?
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Jacqui Smith): The Gloucestershire health community has been working closely with Gloucestershire county council social services to reduce the number of patients who, although fit to be discharged from hospital, are still occupying an acute bed. Between July and November the average number of patients waiting for discharge has declined from 109 to 57. The NHS regional office and social care region are closely monitoring the action being taken in Gloucestershire to reduce delayed discharges.
Mr. Robertson: I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, but a recent report for the East Gloucestershire NHS trust contradicts those figures. It suggests that in October there were 180 delayed discharges, which resulted in 23 people being left on trolleys for up to 12 hours. Will she investigate the discrepancy between those figures and the ones that she cited?
Jacqui Smith: I shall certainly look at the figures that the hon. Gentleman is talking about. However, perhaps more important, we shall also continue the investment that we started with the £300 million announced in October, from which Gloucestershire county council benefited to the tune of £1.46 million. That money is now being used to reduce delays, prevent admissions to hospital and improve community support. That is why the council believes that it will be able to reduce delayed discharges by a further 40 per cent. by March 2002.
Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): When my hon. Friend investigates those matters in Gloucestershire, will she ensure that the council learns from best and worst practice elsewhere? In particular, will she make sure that Gloucestershire social services department does not do what was done in my constituency? There, the Conservative-controlled county council block-booked 12 nursing home beds in a local nursing home, yet at the height of the crisis last year six of those paid-for beds were empty. Will my hon. Friend also ensure that Gloucestershire county council does not fire 16 care home managersthe people responsible for the transition from hospital to nursing home bedswhile finding enough money to keep on 16 press officers?
Jacqui Smith: I know that my hon. Friend and Labour Members who represent Kent constituencies have been active in ensuring that the extra amount of more than £2.5 million that has been made available to Kent to tackle bed blocking has been used effectively. I am sure that the £1.46 million allocated to Gloucestershire will
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): The Minister's reply is somewhat complacent. My hon. Friend the Member for Tewkesbury (Mr. Robertson) has given me the figures for Gloucestershire: 180 people are in hospital who have no clinical need to be there. That is bad for the patients and bad for the taxpayer. When the Minister investigates the circumstances in Gloucestershire, will she undertake to consider how health and social services can work more seamlessly together so that people can leave hospital when they are clinically able to do so? It is cheaper to find a home care package or a residential or nursing home package than it is to keep people in hospital when they do not need to be there.
Jacqui Smith: That is precisely why the Government have announced the extra £300 million, of which Gloucestershire has £1.46 million. In challenging the Government on the issue, the hon. Gentleman has a responsibility to explain to his constituents whether a Conservative Government, were there to be another one, would match that type of sum. He is right, however, that a seamless join between health and social services is very important. The provision that the Government have made available for closer partnership working between health and social services, which has been taken up in many parts of the country, may well be an opportunity that Gloucestershire needs to consider. I am sure that the hon. Gentlemanwhose concern about delayed discharges I sharewill be ensuring that the extra money being provided to the social services department and the health authority in Gloucestershire is spent in the most effective manner.
Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford): Is the Minister aware that, according to her own figures in a written answer, 9 per cent. of acute beds in Gloucestershire are occupied by delayed discharge patients? Does she accept that, on average, there are currently 680,000 bed blockers per annum? Given that the average cost of a week in hospital is £1,630, but only £319 in a residential home, is that not a gross waste of money? Is it not also halting patient care and preventing operations? Is the Minister proud of the fact that, after four and a half years, this Labour Government have created not only a waiting list to get into hospital, but a waiting list to get out of hospital?
Jacqui Smith: This Government are concerned to ensure that people receive the right treatment at the right time and in the right place. This Government have therefore invested extra money to ensure that we cut delayed discharge. I doubt, as we have heard, that that money would be matched by the Opposition. Because of that investment, between July and November 2001, there has already been a 47.7 per cent. decrease in the number of delayed discharges in Gloucestershire. Because of that investment, Gloucestershire now feels able to set itself a tough target to reduce delayed discharges even further. We shall continue to ensure that we invest and reorganise