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Westminster Eye: An insight into the week of politics 24 - 28 October

There was a flurry of activity on health related issues for older people from Wednesday onwards at Westminster.

The delayed transfers of care figures were released for September. Whilst the number of delays is constant, the delays measured in numbers of days are the highest since March. At 121,795 days for September, it is over 12,000 days higher than in April when the figure was 109,362.

In response to Rory Stewart's written question tabled the previous week on support for older people living in rural areas, the Communities Minister Andrew Stunell, said that the Government’s programme included a commitment to support older people to live independently at home. To support that commitment Government has protected funding for Disabled Facilities Grant which delivers adaptations that enable disabled people to live comfortably and independently in their homes. By the end of the spending review period the national Disabled Facilities Grant budget will increase from £169 million in 2010-11 to £185 million in 2014-15. He added that the Government was investing £1.5 million in the FirstStop Information and Advice Service which aims to help older people make informed decisions about their housing, care and support options and to help them maintain independent living in later life. The Government has also provided £51 million funding for handypersons schemes over the spending review period to deliver small home repairs and adaptations.

David Laws MP asked in a written question what the Government’s most recent estimate is of the proportion of NHS expenditure which is spent on people aged 60 years and over; and if he will make a statement. The answer is awaited and will be included in the next issue of the Westminster Eye.

On 26 October John Healey MP presented a petition from the Rotherham Pensioners Action Group. The 500 plus signatures gathered by the group over are calling for a better, fairer system of care for the future. They are worried about the crisis in care caused by big Government cuts in funding as pensioners see services cut, charges increase, and support restricted to those with the most critical care needs.

Earlier that day parliament sat through an opposition day debate that lasted several hours to discuss a motion calling on the scrapping of the Health and Social Care Bill. In exchange Labour MPs extended an offer of cross-party talks on the future of the NHS. The motion, not surprisingly, was defeated and much of the debate descended into party political point scoring. However, there were some bright spots. Deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, Simon Hughes MP called for assurances that the recommendations of the Cavendish report on elderly care would receive full consideration.

Health Committee member Dr Daniel Poulter MP said that Health and Well-being Boards (HWBs) and the clinical commissioning groups would be "good mechanisms for delivering better integrated care". There were currently too many silos in the NHS, he argued, and said the primary and secondary sectors often did not integrate well. Local Health and Well-being Boards were "definitely a step in the right direction" towards closer integration between adult social care and the NHS, he added.

On the following day MPs debated NHS Care for Older People in the Westminster Hall. This debate was granted as a direct result of pressure from backbench MPs following the critical report from the Care Quality Commission about some of the failings in NHS hospitals in providing adequate care for older people. In contrast to the previous day, this debate was constructive and conciliatory with members from all sides of the House pretty much in agreement. Whilst there are examples of excellent care many MPs highlighted stories of poor care in hospitals brought to them by constituents. Others had experience first hand from members of their own families.

"I was heartened to see a note from
WRVS describing ward support services
it is setting up for older people, which is
a wonderful idea.  It wants to improve
the experience of older people by using
trained volunteers to support them and
their families and carers. That would
include training in dementia, which
could be important...."

Barbara Keely MP - Worsley and Eccles South
WRVS is about to roll out an on ward support service and this initiative was supported and welcomed by two MPs during the debate. Barbara Keeley MP, a newly appointed to the Health Select Committee, said that she “was heartened to see a note from WRVS describing ward support services it is setting up for older people, which is a wonderful idea. It wants to improve the experience of older people by using trained volunteers to support them and their families and carers. That would include training in dementia, which could be important.” Nick Smith MP, Principal Private Secretary to shadow Foreign Secretary recognized that the voluntary sector “could be a sensitive and sensible provider. WRVS has informed us about some of its voluntary services on wards, which include befriending patients and help with feeding. I understand that it is keen to expand those services, which is something that I support.”

"WRVS has informed us about some of its
voluntary services on wards, which include
befriending patients and help with feeding.
I understand that it is keen to expand
those services, which is something
that I support...."

Nick Smith MP – Blaenau Gwent
In responding to the debate Paul Burstow said that the finding in the CQC report and other recent reports demanded action. He agreed that follow-ups by the CQC needed to be rapid and proportionate where problems had been identified. As part of the next wave of inspections announced the previous day by the Secretary of State, the CQC will carry out inspections not only on a nine-to-five, Monday to Friday basis, but outside normal hours so that the fullest possible picture is received. The Minister said that there is nothing inevitable about illness and disability in old age. Dementia or falling over is not a normal part of ageing; illness and ageing are not synonymous, and that we must get that point across when designing our systems. That does not mean that an ageing population poses no challenges to our health care system because it does, but it is also a cause for celebration. The age shift taking place in our society is one of the biggest challenges we face, and it is right that Parliament should spend more time debating it. People over 65 account for 65% of hospital admissions and 70% of bed days. There was a need for good leadership, a change in culture and better transparency in data and complaint handling. Margot James the sponsoring MP for the debate closed by drawing the Ministers attention to the figures used during the debate in which it was put that the accepted ratio of nurses in a ward with a considerable number of older people is 1:10, whereas a paediatric ward it was staffed at a ratio of 1:4. She asked that Government should consider what can be done about concerns regarding the skill mix and the management of resources.

A further debate on funding of social care has been granted and will take place in Westminster Hall on 10 November.

Posted by Steve Smith, Public Affairs Officer at 15:00 Monday, 31 October 2011.

Labels: Health and Social Care Bill, Government cuts, Health & Well-being Boards, NHS care for older people

Minister Begins To Sing WRVS Song On Volunteering

old volunteerFor the first time, today saw a proper national debate on the role that older people can play in the Government’s Big Society.

WRVS has been urging the Government to give pride of place to older peoples volunteering in its Big Society vision over the last year. We’ve felt that the volunteering agenda that really excites ministers focuses on 19 years olds gap year volunteering and not older volunteers.

Today we started to see some recognition that the Government is getting more serious about the older peoples volunteering agenda. Nick Hurd said that volunteers could play a crucial role in keeping people out of long term care. He zeroed in on the ‘Baby Boom’ generation of people due to retire in the next five years and emphasised the considerable skills that they have.

A fellow speaker, Antonia Cox author of a report on mobilising volunteers drew attention to the findings of WRVS’ report, Gold Age, which shows how much older people are already the mainstay of the Big Society.

When I spoke I highlighted the work that we are doing to reach out to people who have not volunteered before with our Carebank project in Maidenhead. I and members of the audience pressed Nick Hurd on the need for local authorities to ‘step up’ and use their considerable contacts with older people to make individuals aware of volunteering opportunities.

Geraldine Bedell spoke from the Gransnet charity and argued that one barrier to getting more older people active in their communities was a feeling that their contribution was not fully recognised and valued. Geraldine herself was a judge for WRVS’ Gold Age Power List that recognises older people’s impact across our society.

So where do we go next? WRVS will be knocking on ministers doors again asking them to follow up on some of the ideas that came, not only from us, but from Conservative activists who spoke in the meeting.

Matthew Sowemimo, WRVS Head of Public Policy spoke at the ResPublica Fringe meeting during the Conservative Party Conference.

Posted by Matthew Sowemimo, Head of Policy at 00:00 Tuesday, 04 October 2011.

Labels: Conservative Party Conference, Big Society, volunteering