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Baroness Prashar: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Does he agree that information about entitlement to healthcare is not getting through to asylum seekers and that in some cases they are being denied care? What steps are being taken to develop a coherent strategy to meet both the health needs of asylum seekers and to ensure that they are made aware of their entitlements?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to draw attention to the issue of providing information to asylum seekers. She will know that the Audit Commission report which was published earlier this year suggested that the department and the National Asylum Seeker Service should issue new arrivals with information about their entitlement to health services and a simple explanation of how the UK health system operates. We intend to ensure that that suggestion is implemented. In relation to the Audit Commission's recommendation that we should issue good practice guidance to health authorities so that they can ensure effective service delivery to asylum seekers and refugees, we have made available a grant of £30,000 to ensure that such good practice guidance is issued.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, can the Minister say exactly what is the entitlement of asylum seekers? Obviously an asylum seeker has not yet been granted asylum. Is he or she in the same category as a
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, any asylum seeker given leave to remain in the UK or awaiting a decision on his or her application is regarded as ordinarily resident and is eligible for free treatment by a GP. Similarly, asylum seekers needing hospital care will be treated on the same basis as anyone else eligible to receive NHS hospital treatment.
The Lord Bishop of Lichfield: My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister about interpreter services. In a Midland town in my region an asylum seeker who had lost an eye through torture received no on-going medical treatment through lack of an interpreter, even though he was registered with a GP. Can the Minister comment on that situation?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has identified a particularly difficult issue in relation to language. As part of their health improvement programmes, which are aimed at assessing health needs, we expect health authorities to identify interpreting issues and to ensure that such services are available. As part of the good practice guidance arising out of the Audit Commission report, we would expect health authorities to identify the necessity for action in training staff on cultural issues and in providing interpreter, advocacy and translation services.
Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, I declare an interest because all four of my grandparents were fortunate enough to emigrate to this country at the end of the 19th century in circumstances which today would clearly have made them asylum seekers. Can the Minister give an assurance that in health and other matters every effort will be made to deal with asylum seekers swiftly and fairly--perhaps more swiftly and with more apparent fairness than in the past--recognising not only their rights as human beings but that many asylum seekers who settle here will make a significant contribution to the life of this country?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I agree with everything that my noble friend has said. So far as concerns the National Health Service, we are under an obligation to ensure that asylum seekers receive high quality health services.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, does the Minister agree that in many cases asylum seekers do not have easy access to the health services, especially dental services? In many towns there are no vacancies for national health dental patients--if indeed they have national health dentists. Even in the case of emergency treatment there is extreme difficulty. What are the Government doing to make dental services properly available to asylum seekers?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I shall have to write to the noble Baroness on that issue. The responsibilities of the Department of Health are great but they are not as great as that. We expect the families and dependants of asylum seekers to receive the appropriate NHS services.
Earl Howe: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the single most important step towards solving the difficulties identified by the noble Baroness is proper co-ordination between the Home Office, the Department of Health and local authorities? Does he share my perception that, without a single body taking overall responsibility for the welfare of refugees, general practitioners are picking up the extra workload, often with no notice and no extra back-up funds?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the Department of Health will be anxious to pick up any issues raised by general practitioners and ensure that they are discussed either with the Home Office or with the NASS directly. At the end of the day, I do not think it matters which part of government or which particular unit takes overall responsibility. What is important is to ensure a co-ordinated response. I am satisfied that in areas where a greater demand is placed on health authorities through the development of a proper health improvement programme, through the use of local initiatives such as PMS and the local development of services authorities are in a position to target resources where they can be used most effectively.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, military museums are afforded tenure of occupation on Ministry of Defence property under a commitment first made in 1956. They should continue to be accommodated unless there are changes in deployment or estate requirements. Some have applied
Lord Burnham: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that very full Answer. My Question was originally based on an article I read. The noble Baroness's department was kind enough to point out to me this morning that Mr Max Hastings, who wrote it, had reneged on his statement. He said that the Ministry of Defence had stated that most existing museums would be unaffected. I hear what the Minister says, but that sounds rather dangerous. I hope that she can inform the House that all existing museums will be unaffected if they so wish.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord that complete assurance. As I indicated in my initial Answer, there may be changes to regimental accommodation because of changes in deployment or in estate requirements. Where there are such changes, as there have been on one or two occasions, sometimes the museum is able to follow its regiment elsewhere.
I am interested that the noble Lord believed every word of the article. As I recall, it started off by saying that Malcolm Rifkind was a disastrous Defence Secretary and Michael Portillo only marginally less so. The author did not renege on those points.
Viscount Falkland: My Lords, based on the exchange that has taken place, can I take it that there is some reason for regimental and other museums to be anxious about the future because their tenure is not secure in the long term? Has there been any contact between the noble Baroness's department and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, and also with the area museums councils, which are particularly concerned with these issues? Not all regiments which have connections with areas and regions and which have stories and treasures relating to those regions can make the arrangements that have been made, for example, by the King's Liverpool Regiment, which is now under the umbrella of the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside, and the 60th in Hampshire. Can the Minister offer some word of comfort? Is there a dialogue between her department and other agencies, so that we do not lose valuable treasures?
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