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9.28 pm

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley): In the short time now allowed me, I would like to put the record straight. The hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) told the House that three care homes were closing in Kirklees, which covers my constituency. The House should know what is happening in Kirklees. There are 14 residential homes and three of them are indeed due to be closed, but what is going to happen to them bears some examination.

One home is to be taken over by the Housing Corporation and will become 40 new flats for elderly people. It will include day services, a medical centre and all the ongoing help that those elderly people will need. The second will be turned into an intermediary care facility. Conservative Members have shown a great deal of interest in deferred discharge from hospital. People will be able to go into that centre to receive the assessment and help that they need after a period of ill health, an accident or a crisis in the home, and to move on to the sort of care that is most appropriate for them. So, to present this as a simple case of closure is inaccurate and wrong.

The House should also be aware of other facilities that are available in the area. I have already mentioned Moorlands Grange, which my hon. Friend the Minister has visited, and which represents the way forward for integrated care for elderly people. We need to examine what is taking place in Kirklees, where a whole system approach is being used. Moorlands Grange is a resource centre where people can have an assessment of their needs, then—properly supported—move out into the community and back into their own homes. We have heard much from Conservative Members today, but in my constituency 453 people received intensive care in their

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homes last year; this year, the figure will go up to 533, and we have set a challenging target of more than 850 people in two years' time. We are seeing a growth in supporting people in their homes, and that is the way forward. Let us use our homes for what they are best used for; let us keep people in their homes, where they are most safe and secure and feel most comfortable.

9.31 pm

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), to his debut at the Dispatch Box, which we eagerly await. I look forward to many other opportunities to debate with him in the future. I am only sorry that he is making his debut in a debate on a serious matter on which his Government have such a lousy record.

We have had a good debate, which was excellently and passionately opened by my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns). In contrast, the response from Labour Members was the usual fake indignation, as if it were a bit of a cheek for hon. Members to raise this issue again tonight. I was particularly surprised by the comments of the hon. Member for Crawley (Laura Moffatt), who has expertise in this area. She knows how my own county of West Sussex has been coping exceedingly well in very difficult circumstances with one of the highest number of elderly people in the country, and how it received a two-star rating in the latest social services rating list.

I am afraid that we heard the usual complacency from the Minister, as well. She talked about scaremongering and said that, apparently, there were "too many" care home beds in 1996, and that we have had only a "small" number of bed losses since then. I would hate to see what she regards as a large number of bed losses. This is a serious problem. The ageing time bomb that we all face is perhaps one of the most significant problems affecting our constituencies today.

According to the Government Actuary, there were 7.8 million people over the age of 65 in 1996 and, by 2031, that figure will have risen by 60 per cent. The biggest rise will be among the over-85s, who receive no additional funding through the health authorities once they reach 75, but who incur many extra health costs. By 2007, for the first time ever, pensioners in this country will outnumber children under 16. A man aged over 65 has a 9 per cent. chance of requiring residential care for the rest of his life, or a 5 per cent. chance of requiring nursing care. For women, the figures are much higher: 13 per cent. and 37 per cent. respectively. That is why this is such a serious matter, and why we are quite deliberately raising it again in the House this evening.

By any measure, the population is ageing. However much we may do to enable older people to live active lives in their own homes, with the support of carers, relatives and social services, we shall still require a big increase in the amount of residential care and nursing care beds. In fact, the Office for National Statistics estimates that the number of places will have to expand by about 65 per cent. over the next 30 years just to keep up. That is a very different picture from that painted by the Minister, who still thinks that there are too many beds—especially, apparently, in Redditch.

It is absurd and bizarre that the trend in the provision of care home beds should be downward rather than rising to keep up with demand. We have heard the figures from

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Laing and Buisson: there were 575,000 care home beds five years ago; that figure is now down to 525,000, and 2,095 care homes out of 14,600 have closed across the country. We have heard stories, particularly from Ministers' own constituencies, of how beds are being lost week after week.

It is particularly absurd and disgraceful that the Government should be so dismissive about the problem and that Members should apparently resent our raising it here. There was the disgraceful contempt shown by the Secretary of State for Health back in March when, during Question Time, he described elderly people as being

Equally alarming has been the complacency of the Prime Minister who, only last week at his own Question Time, brushed aside the concerns of a number of Members by claiming extra money was going in, and that new regulations would not come into force until 2007, so it was all sorted—and in any case the loss-of-beds figure was only 19,000. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford and others have demonstrated, that was absolute nonsense.

Of course, to the Prime Minister the cry of "Geriatric residential facility, geriatric residential facility, geriatric residential facility" may not sound quite as sexy, or be as good a soundbite, as "Hospitals, hospitals, hospitals"; but such facilities are no less important to the bigger picture of health care.

Where does the Prime Minister acquire figures allowing him to make his calculations? Laing and Buisson is the recognised leader in research on care homes and is retained by the Department of Health. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation report mentioned by the Minister, which was published only last month, repeated its figure of 50,000 lost beds in five years, and it reiterated that care homes for older people were underfunded by more than £1 billion a year—a fact that adds to the woes of social services departments throughout the country about which we know so much.

I believe, however, that the actual figure is worse. In my constituency, those running residential homes have decided that they simply cannot comply with the regulations and stay in business, and are therefore closing their homes. Alternatively, they are running down beds and not accepting new residents—but such homes are still counted as having full availability of beds until they have closed entirely, although those beds are not technically available. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson), and also by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), all those numbers represent real lives. Of course being shunted around three homes in the space of two years will affect the health and well-being of elderly, vulnerable people.

However, the situation is much more complex and worrying than either the Prime Minister or the Minister is willing to admit, and it does not help to reduce it to a dishonest, political numbers game. The problem is caused by a combination of factors: additional and in some cases excessive regulation, a shortfall in funding through local authorities, declining margins making the whole business less attractive at a time of rising property prices—a decline caused by increased costs of regulation, increased staffing costs and staff shortages—and pressure on social services, along with shifting responsibilities.

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Let us begin with the problem of regulation. The Care Standards Act 2000 started with good intentions, but has succeeded in driving some of the best homes out of business simply because they operate in older buildings that would prove prohibitively expensive to convert by 2007. That is certainly the case on much of the south coast. We heard about the rise in land values from my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan).

Larger room dimensions, single occupancy, en-suite facilities and the radiator covers mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire are desirable—but the time and attention given to residents by staff, the conditions available to them, the quality of their food and how well their medication is dealt with are what count.

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): Does my hon. Friend agree with my constituent Mrs. Diana Self? Writing about her grandmother, she observed:

the grandmother—

Does my hon. Friend also agree that if the Minister's contention was correct, and if old people's choices were indeed at the centre of policy, there would be far fewer closures and far more people living happily in the same homes?

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