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The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): The Government are determined to improve the quality and range of NHS and social care services for older people. The national service framework, which was published last month, will ensure fair, high- quality, integrated health and social care services for older people. It sets new standards to help root out age discrimination and drive up the quality of care. Implementation of the new standards will be carefully monitored.
Dr. Cable: May I welcome the framework and ask the Minister how, and over what time scale, he envisages the removal of age discrimination from the NHS? How would the framework apply to my constituent, a 71-year-old lady who is marooned in Kingston hospital after a serious stroke? She cannot be moved because the nearest and most appropriate stroke rehabilitation unit, the Wolfson unit, operates a strict age bar and admits no one who is over 65.
Mr. Hutton: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's support for the objective that we aim to achieve through the national service framework. I have been advised that the Wolfson unit does not set age-based criteria for admission as he suggests. I understand that it recently treated a 92-year-old in similar circumstances to his constituent. We have clearly set out in the national service framework that we want all age-based eligibility rules to be reviewed by October this year and the necessary action taken as soon as possible after that.
Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North): I thank my hon. Friend for taking such action. It is long overdue and it will make a genuine difference to older people, especially those who suffer strokes and from osteoporosis. Will he work closely with modernisation action in the NHS to ensure that there will be money to enable us to take advantage of the framework and implement it properly where need is greatest?
Mr. Hutton: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that we have a big task ahead of us in converting the aspirations of the national service framework into tangible improvements on the ground and in the front line. The national service framework has made some important declarations about improvements in stroke care services. They have been strongly welcomed by the Stroke Association, which has worked closely with us to develop the framework. It is a big job and we intend to work closely with all the key partners who have helped us to develop the standards and, of course, with the NHS and social services.
Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Does the Minister agree that the national service framework will be little more than fine-sounding words if we continue to lose intermediate care beds at the current rate? Why have we lost 50,000 such beds in the care home sector in the past 12 months? What will he do about it?
Mr. Hutton: The hon. Gentleman is wrong; 50,000 beds have not been lost in the care home sector. Between 7,000 and 8,000 beds have been lost in that sector over the period that he mentioned. [Interruption.] Those are the figures. It is clear to Labour Members that Conservative Members hate being confronted with the truth about issues. However, we intend to deal with them. The number of intermediate care beds in the NHS is set to increase, and it is very important that it does so.
The hon. Gentleman will also want to reflect on the fact that an important part of the extra investment in intermediate care services will be local government investment through social services. I know that he does not like this, but let me remind him that his lectures on the subject are utterly bogus unless and until his hon. Friends can agree to match our spending on social services. They have been given numerous opportunities to do that, but they have never to this date said that they will match our spending.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ms Gisela Stuart): Children's hospices have the same access to health service funding as adult hospices. We are increasing funding for the provision of palliative care services and expect children's hospices to benefit thereby. In addition, funding will be available later this year from the new opportunities fund, specifically for services in support of children with life-threatening illnesses, including those provided by children's hospices.
Mr. Hoyle: It is an interesting answer. My hon. Friend may be aware of the excellent work done by Derian house in my constituency, which treats children not only from the north-west but from other regions. It is a very specialist children's hospice. Is she aware that children's hospices are the poor relations when it comes to funding, and that they received only £25,000, which is not acceptable? I put down a challenge to my hon. Friend: please will she personally look into the funding of children's hospices and ensure that there is a big improvement in what they receive? I know that we could work together for the benefit of children's hospices.
Ms Stuart: Not only am I happy to take up that challenge but I have in front of me details of Derian house, and I am aware of the good work that it does. We have to ensure that children's hospice provision is developed in a strategic way, and that is why we have set up a regional group. I urge my hon. Friend to encourage the hospice in his constituency to take part in that review. We have also made new funds available. The new opportunities funding that was announced recently by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will make available about £300 million to spend on health initiatives. We envisage that about £48 million will be available over the next three years to provide palliative care for children with life-threatening and life-limiting illnesses. I hope that he will encourage the hospice to be part of that process to ensure that strategic care is provided in his area.
Mr. Bradley: I am sure that the Minister will want to join me in paying tribute to the Shropshire and Mid Wales adult hospice and the Hope House children's hospice, which serves my community. They, and the hospice movement in general, welcomed the announcement of additional funding made by the Secretary of State last October, but six months later they are still seeking clarity. Will my hon. Friend confirm that the new resources will meet the needs not only of new initiatives in children's hospice provision but of existing hospices? Will she also confirm that a contribution will be made towards core funding, as well as new initiatives at those hospices? The hospices have been waiting a long time for the clarity that they seek, and they need some assurance from my hon. Friend the Minister so that they can plan for the future.
Ms Stuart: Of course; that is why the directions laid down for the bidding for new opportunities funding will provide exactly what my hon. Friend asks for. I have looked at the provisions for Hope House hospice and I note that the secretary of its association is a member of the children's taskforce and is playing a key role in the Association of Children's Hospices. I know from a meeting today that the association is satisfied that the
Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth): Will the Minister ensure that some of the extra money will go towards paying for the complementary therapists who do so much in hospices such as the Loros in Leicestershire? Now that the Government have helpfully published the response to the Lords report on complementary medicine, will she pledge perhaps £100,000 towards research?
Will the Minister have a word with a counterpart of hers? If homeopathy is good enough for humans, is it not good enough for animals in the foot and mouth disease crisis? Will she have a word with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food?
Ms Stuart: I have long since stopped thinking of supplementary questions from the hon. Gentleman; I think of complementary questions. He is aware that homeopathy has played a significant role in palliative care. We shall continue to look at that and take it forward.
Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East): Is the Minister aware that, in Southend, where for many years we have had a wonderful hospice called Fair Havens and where, more recently, a children's hospice has opened, although we raise increasing sums every year to help the hospice, because the percentage of funding covered by public funds is being reduced, the burden is becoming greater every year? Does she not feel that there might be a case for a proper review by the Department of the percentage funding carried by the Government for both adult and children's hospices, because the percentage is genuinely going down and the burden on the community is continuing to increase?
Ms Stuart: I am aware that we need to increase the total amount of funding available for palliative care. That is why we made £50 million available for both adults and children. However, as I said earlier, children's hospices in particular have developed in a non-strategic way, so we need to ensure that each region has proper provision. Within that, children's hospices will bid for both health improvement money and new opportunities funding, so that we can strike the right balance between what is raised from the voluntary sector and what the NHS provides. That will vary from area to area.