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Mr. Dawson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Burns: No.

A significant number of self-funding residents are now in effect subsidising local authority-placed residents. The Government's introduction of free nursing care is doing very little to help to reduce the problems that were identified before that happened.

Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Burns: No; I need to make progress.

Another major factor in home closure has been the mass of regulations imposed on care homes and the unsatisfactory manner in which they are being implemented, despite the promise of a carrot rather than stick approach. The Prime Minister seems rather confused about the implementation of the new care standards. My hon. Friends will remember that, last Wednesday in Prime Minister's questions, he told my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that the care standards regulations

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He was quite dogmatic about that—and he is equally wrong. Let me explain to the House what his Government are doing.

There are 38 minimum standards covering seven topics and comprising 246 individual rules. Two provisions will operate from 2004 and four provisions will operate from 2007, but what the Prime Minister does not seem to understand is that 240 provisions operated from 1 April 2002. The Prime Minister's ignorance typifies how out of touch his Government are on this sensitive subject.

Of course, everyone supports the principle of raising standards and the quality of care but it must be done in a sympathetic, sensible and sensitive way.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised the answer that the Prime Minister gave last week. The figures that my hon. Friend has just given us were confirmed to me this morning by the House of Commons Library. Given all the regulations that they have had to implement from 1 April this year, with the more expensive ones to come, and the fact that housing and the property market are at a high, is it not the case that many owners are selling up in order to get out and to realise their capital before there is even more of the same to come?

Mr. Burns: Sadly, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the major problems facing the care homes sector is what is going on as a result of the Government's policies and their lack of preparedness to take action to rectify the problem.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Burns: No, I will not give way. I am going to make progress.

Some of the requirements in respect of room sizes and other structural changes are unnecessarily over- prescriptive and ludicrous. [Hon. Members: "Name them."] If hon. Members listen, I will. For example, one large care home provider with more than 200 homes told me that the standards require doors in the homes to be a minimum of 80 cm wide, but the doors in the homes happen to be 78 cm wide and it will cost £2.5 million to meet the required standards.

A care home owner in East Sussex who has been running her home for 18 years told me:

Ironically, many of the residents chose their own rooms as they were happy with their size and

[Interruption.] Labour Members laugh, but that is what the residents of care homes want. All Labour Members can do is laugh at their wishes.

The owner was left in tears by the inspectors. She said that she was left feeling

Her home now has to close because she cannot afford to meet the minimum room size standards. She told the inspectors that the next time they visited she would be working in Tesco's.

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A home owner in North Tyneside told me that his family had run their home for 31 years and had been highly regarded for providing high-quality care. Now they are having to close, with the loss of 21 beds, because they cannot run the home on the occupancy levels that the new standards will mean.

A home in Kent for elderly people with learning disabilities, which has 32 beds, will be closing in August because of the upgrading requirements in the care standards regulations. One resident has been there for 35 years. The uncertainty and confusion of residents at having to leave their home is causing shock and deep distress. The manager has said that 95 per cent. of those residents have no family, relatives or friends, and regard the staff as their family. Their lives and security will be destroyed.

Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Burns: No, I will not.

Another home owner, in Somerset, said of the Government's over-regulation:

Why did she have to move them out? Because she was required to install a lift to accommodate five people, even though she only had a seven-bed home. She lamented to me:

That quote sums up the deeply distressing impact the Government's policy is having on so many elderly vulnerable people.

Even the constituency of the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Redditch, is affected. She may be familiar with the Stonebridge nursing home, with 41 beds. The Minister nods; she is clearly familiar with it. I wonder how good her memory is.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Jacqui Smith): The home has applied for planning permission.

Mr. Burns: The Minister is very good at memorising things, so I hope that she remembers what I am about to tell her.

When the owner, Mrs. Jean Jones, went to see her then Labour prospective parliamentary candidate, Jacqui Smith, in 1997, she was assured—and I quote from what Jacqui Smith said at the time—

Mrs. Jones notes with some dismay that since 1997 the opposite has happened. The home even had to employ an extra member of staff to deal with questionnaires and forms from the National Care Standards Commission and the inspectors. As the Minister said, the home has applied for planning permission. Of course it has—to comply with the care standards and to make the necessary changes. It will cost the owner £350,000 to do so.

The distress and the disruption to vulnerable people's lives caused by the impact of these regulations is totally unacceptable and in many cases totally unnecessary. There is no point in Ministers chanting the mantra that

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the inspection teams have been instructed to work in a sympathetic and sensitive way, because in the real world—not in the ivory tower of the Department of Health—that is not happening. Too many elderly, frail and confused residents are seeing their homes and security destroyed in an act of bureaucratic vandalism. No one would disagree with the need to raise standards where that is necessary or to enhance the quality of life of residents, but Ministers cannot and must not hide behind that to allow elderly people's lives to be ruined and destroyed in the name of heavy-handed bureaucracy.

Quality care is not provided by enforcing arbitrary bureaucracy. Quality care is not provided by officious inspections. Quality care is not provided by pretending that there is not a crisis. There is a crisis in care—a crisis for the elderly, a crisis for the defenceless, a crisis for the frail and a crisis for the vulnerable. They deserve better, but the Government are failing them. It is time for the Government to listen, to take note and to act now.

7.28 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Jacqui Smith): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

Improving services for older people is one of the Government's highest priorities. For that reason, I welcome this debate, which provides an opportunity to discuss how we deliver the right type of care and support for older people at the right time and in the right setting, whether that setting be a care home, sheltered accommodation or assisted living within a person's own home. Ensuring choice and good quality care for vulnerable people is about more than care homes.

I also welcome today's debate as I can share with the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) my respect and praise for those who work in all our care settings for the contribution that they make to vulnerable people. I will focus on care homes, not least to counter some of the disinformation and scaremongering that have characterised the hon. Gentleman's contribution. The old and vulnerable people who depend on our care system deserve more than that.

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