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Richard Younger-Ross: Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the home should close or remain open and be refurbished? Does he have a view?

Mr. Waterson: I thought that I had expressed my view, but I repeat that I suspect that a decision to close the home will have to be made. I surmise that it could be refurbished, but at inordinate expense. If I had a magic wand, I would start again on the site and build something more modern and in tune with the needs of local older people, such as a resource centre that would meet many needs that are currently not satisfied. Again, that is not to due to the staff. I shall be interested to read "Focus" on the issue. I hope that Liberal Democrats are forewarned that their actions will be met with the force of the argument that I have just presented. I am sure that there are similar facilities around the country in which similar arguments apply.

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I want briefly to move on to the question of bed blocking, or delayed discharge, as I think it is more fashionable to call it nowadays. I have laid as much blame as I think appropriate at the door of the Liberal Democrats for the chaos in which they left the social services budget, and for their dogma over paying for the private care homes sector. However, the Government cannot escape blame, for two reasons. First, immediately on taking office, they changed the calculation formula for standard spending assessments so that the number of old people resident in East Sussex is no longer properly and fully taken into account by the formula.

Secondly, we have this issue of bed blocking. We keep being told that it is being solved by extra inputs of cash from the Government. At one time, bed blocking seemed to be a phenomenon that occurred in the winter months. Nowadays—at least if Eastbourne district general hospital is anything to go by—it is a phenomenon that starts in the summer and gets worse in the winter. Indeed, it is an all-year-round phenomenon.

The hospital had a major problem with bed blocking before the last election, and—lo and behold—under pressure from myself and others, the Government put in extra cash to tide it over during the election period. Last summer, there was also a major problem. Speaking from memory, I think that 45 beds were blocked in June. That is the equivalent of a couple of wards, if we want to look at it in that way. More recently, the Government have put in some extra funding. But last Friday, the district general hospital commented that the number of blocked beds not only matched but was now rising above the figure for last June, despite the extra funding. The acting chief executive, Glen Douglas, said:


I have to tell the Minister that, whatever extra funds the Government have put into this problem, it simply is not working. We still have a major bed blocking problem.

Norman Baker (Lewes): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, especially as I missed the first few minutes of his speech. I share his concern about bed blocking, which affects my constituency too. Is he aware that the money provided by the Government has been allocated first and foremost to Hastings, despite promises by the county council? One of the reasons the problem of bed blocking in Eastbourne district general hospital has not been solved is that allocation by the county council.

Mr. Waterson: It would have been helpful if the hon. Gentleman had been here for the first hour and 45 minutes of this debate, but it is nice to have his company none the less. I am not in the business of making knockabout party political points, and I would have hoped that he would agree with me that the extra funds that the Government have produced are not doing the job. Whether the money is allocated to Hastings or Eastbourne is neither here nor there, particularly as a merger of the two hospitals is on the cards in any event.

Will the Minister please promise to look again at the situation in Eastbourne? I appreciate that there are hospitals up and down the country that always have a story to tell about a lack of resources, but here we seem to have a genuine problem. I do not know whether the

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problem is administrative or endemic, or whether the money is not being disbursed properly, as the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) might have been suggesting. Whatever the practical reason for the problem, this extra money is not doing the trick. Far from bringing the figures down, we are heading towards them being twice the level they were at last summer, when they were already severe grounds for concern.

To echo my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), the Government have created a situation in which we still have significant waiting lists not only to get into hospital, but to get out.

8.49 pm

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South): The state system for providing medical or social care is crucial and I welcome the Liberal Democrats' choice of topic for this Opposition day debate. However, I was taken aback by the language used by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow). I neither recognise the situation that he described nor believe that the elderly or the great majority of my constituents in Stockton would describe the care that they receive in similar terms. They most certainly do not see social services as Cinderella services. They see them as historically underfunded, but they also recognise the professionalism of the staff who run them, so they would object most strongly to the use of such language and the notion that they must wait for someone to die before they get a place.

Let me explain to the Liberal Democrats. We have too many places and too many homes, not insufficient capacity. There is over-provision, so my constituents would find your argument untypical of the situation that they face. It has been said that district nurses are getting older. We have young district nurses. Many are being trained and many are impacting on the community that I represent. Your use of language suggests to me that you are seeking press coverage.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. The hon. Lady must use the correct parliamentary language.

Ms Taylor: I am appropriately corrected. The language used by the Opposition seems to court press coverage, but it does not reflect reality.

I shall not pepper my speech with statistics—an awful lot of those have been bandied around—because I want to talk about the reality that my constituency faces. Our health and social provision has developed into a health and social services partnership that has been awarded beacon status. It is innovative and it has high standards. There is a clear, professional and qualitative relationship between health and social security professionals. I hope that the Minister has time to acknowledge the value of the partnership's innovative capability. It is one of only five such partnerships to achieve beacon status and I say to Stockton, "Well done." However, I would not say that everything is fine.

The partnership's policies are often innovative and they challenge a culture in which elderly and old people's residences are seen as coincidental. We do not see things that way and it is clear that my authority does not see things that way. I do not suggest to the House that the partnership is working to maximum effect. I am very realistic. I know that it needs time and that more, serious

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money is required. It needs space to accommodate individual needs, but my realism is appropriate. A dose of realism would stand Opposition Members in good stead.

Inevitably there are problems and some are historical. We do not need to be told what the Conservative Government did for 18 years. We all know what they did. We know that there are demographic problems and that there is an ageing population to accommodate. There are undoubted problems because we are challenging a culture. The remark of my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) was so appropriate—the elderly do not always want to go into homes and residences. I talked to elderly people when I worked in Sunderland and I talk to them in Stockton. Often they would choose to stay at home.

I am not saying that there are no problems, because problems are inevitable when we propose change. I am especially conscious of the fact that stand-offs always arise when we change a policy relating to vulnerable people. People say, "We would rather things stay as they are because we are not too sure of the quality that you will provide." We understand that and I am not saying that the partnership in Stockton is achieving all. I simply say that it is innovative, achieving change, responding to higher expectations and delivering better services. It is responding in such a way that individuals feel that they are prized in the community.

A lot more has to be done, but a lot is being done. By speaking about my local authority and its relationship with the Government, I am speaking the truth. I am neither exaggerating nor underestimating the problems and opportunities.

It is difficult to see new policies delivering appropriate services, so it is valuable for all of us to hear the language used by professionals in my constituency on the Government's approach. The language of local policy- makers is invariably positive. Members might say that I would not quote them were it not. They would be wrong. It may be difficult but, as a policy-making Government, we have to face up to the problems as well as the opportunities.

The language used shows that partnership is valuable, as is supporting a fundamental change in culture. Establishing relationships between different professionals that are based on co-operation and support is valuable. Many of us in the House have professional backgrounds, and we are here because we want to deliver a policy or create a new approach. The partnership arrangements lead to co-operation. The days of ambivalence are becoming fewer and there is less indecision about whose responsibility a person is. Although all the problems have certainly not been solved, they are withering on the vine. Health and social needs are being handled holistically by partnerships such as mine, and we are achieving a much higher quality of care and support.

The director of social services for Stockton has said:


adding that local flexibility was liked. The Secretary of State's remarks about freedom for local hospitals and local social services will provide the opportunity to develop services that respond to local needs. Stockton's social services director warmly welcomed that, and believed that it showed that his staff's professionalism was being recognised. The director said that they believed that a relationship of trust was beginning to develop.

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This is not pie in the sky; it is something that we hope to achieve. We have to start somewhere, and my local authority is starting a positive relationship with the Government because the Government have given them the opportunity.

My local authority has adopted a principled approach to helping the health and social needs of the elderly in a care package known as homes for life. There is determination to establish a service that encompasses the needs of all older, vulnerable people within the broader community, and in which the richness of being part of a community remains. The elderly and the vulnerable have rights and they must have easy access to family and friends. Independence must be a fact of life. This well-rounded and well-thought-out policy maintains the individual's connections with the community. It should not require two bus journeys for a family to visit an elderly person, or a difficult journey for an elderly person to visit their family.

There are problems, and it is early days. We are in a period of transition, but at least we are in that period. Homes for life is a clear and principled approach, and a policy that will support independence.

I wish to respond to the arguments about the private care sector and to refute categorically the challenge in the motion that Government policy has mishandled, and misunderstood, the home care sector, causing a loss of homes and beds. In Stockton, we have not lost any beds. I am the first to acknowledge that the relationship between the local authority and the private sector is not always easy, but no beds have been lost. Concern has been expressed about the amount of money that the local authority is prepared to pay for care and support of the elderly, but those concerns are now being resolved. Private owners are saying that that is because the Government have carefully organised the funding of social services in Stockton to allow private owners to pay appropriately. There has been disagreement, but it has been resolved and negotiations have taken place. Therefore, people in Teesside will wonder what on earth the Liberal Democrats have been talking about.

We do not have bed blocking either. We have two elderly people who have to be placed carefully in residential care.


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