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Westminster Eye: An insight into the week of politics 12 - 16 March

Monday 12 March

On Monday Helen Jones MP received an answer to her question to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government asking how many local authorities have increased charges (a) for the use of day centres and (b) for transport to day centres in 2011-12; and how many local authorities plan to increase such charges in 2012-13. Minister Robert Neill said that the information requested was not held centrally.

The previous week Tracey Crouch MP had asked what assessment the Health Minister had made of the conclusions and recommendations of the joint report by the NHS Confederation, Age UK and the Local Government Association on improving dignity in the care of older people. Social Care Minister Paul Burstow said that the Department welcomed the publication of the Commission's draft report, which aimed to help drive improvements in the quality of care provided to older people in hospitals and care homes. He looked forward to the publication of the Commission's final report.

He added that the Government was determined to root out poor quality care in the NHS through a range of actions. The NHS Operating Framework for 2012-13 established the issue of high quality, dignified and compassionate care as one of four key priorities for the NHS.

In addition, on 6 January, the Government had announced a series of measures to improve the quality of nursing care and free up nurses to provide the care patients and relatives expect. The measures included setting up a new independent Nursing and Care Quality Forum, tasked with ensuring that the best nursing practice is spread throughout the NHS and social care.

Meanwhile in the House of Lords, Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked the Government whether they will bring into effect the power conferred by the Equality Act 2010 to make age discrimination unlawful in providing goods, services and facilities, including health care, to the public. In her reply Baroness Verma said that following a public consultation last year, the Government was still considering the scope for and content of exceptions from any age discrimination ban and will announce how it intends to proceed in due course.

David Morris MP had asked Health Ministers what steps the Department of Health is taking to ensure that all elderly people are treated with respect and dignity in hospitals. On the same day he also asked Work and Pensions Ministers what steps their Department is taking to assess the implications of the Dilnot Report.

Tuesday 13 March

On Tuesday Paul Burstow replied saying that the Government is determined to root out poor quality care in the NHS. The Government is taking action on a number of fronts, including measures in the 2012-13 Operating framework, where quality of care, particularly for older people, is established as one of the four key priorities for the service, giving it equal billing with Operational Performance, the Quality, Innovation, Productivity and Prevention programme and Reform.

He added that the Care Quality Commission will be building on the 100 Dignity and Nutrition inspections it undertook in 2011 on behalf of the Department by undertaking a further 700 inspections this year. To improve on these inspections, the Prime Minister recently announced a new patient-led inspection regime, looking at nutrition, privacy, cleanliness and dignity.

In addition, there are also a number of National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence quality standards that are either in place or are being developed for a range of conditions and pathways affecting older people, including incontinence, nutrition support in adults, patient experience in adult NHS services, delirium, dementia, osteoarthritis and falls in a care setting. There is also renewed funding for National Audits relevant to older people's care. There are a number of indicators in the NHS Outcomes Framework to support better care for older people around dementia care, hospital acquired infections, emergency readmission rates, improving recovery from fragility fractures and helping older people to recover their independence after illness or injury. The Government had established the National Nursing and Care Quality Forum to work with patients, carers and professionals to spread best practice to increase the quality of services to older people.

In regards of the Dilnot question directed at the pensions Minister, Paul Burstow said that following the publication of the report of the Commission on Funding of Care and Support, the Government announced they would consult with a range of people and organisations involved in care and support on their recommendations and social care reform more broadly. "Caring for our future: Shared ambitions for care and support engagement" ran between 15 September and 2 December 2011. The Government will publish their plans for social care reform in a care and support White Paper and progress report on funding in the spring.

Virendra Sharma MP had asked the Department of Health a series of questions the previous week. The first two questions focused on telecare. In summary, he asked what assessment the Department has made of the effect of telehealth and telecare services on improving patient experience and also of delivering efficiency savings in the NHS and adult social services. Virendra Sharma MP also asked what plans the Department has to support (a) primary care trusts, (b) clinical commissioning groups and (c) local authorities to commission telehealth and telecare services for people with long-term care needs. Replies are awaited.

In replying Paul Burstow said that the Department has been trialling the effect of telehealth and telecare in the Whole System Demonstrator programme, a large-scale randomised control trial. Early headline findings published by the Department on 5 December 2011 had demonstrated that when used appropriately there is potential to reduce emergency admissions and mortality. The Department estimated that there are three million people with long term conditions who could benefit from this approach, which is why the Department and leaders from industry signed a concordat demonstrating a commitment to deliver telehealth and telecare to those who will benefit. This is the Three Million Lives initiative launched on 19 January 2012.

On Wednesday Jim Cunningham MP asked what steps the Government is taking to ensure consistent levels of provision of social care support. Paul Burstow referred the MP to the reply that he gave him on 5 December 2011.

Virendra Sharma MP had asked the Health Secretary what proportion of the £648 million allocated for local authority spending on social care that also benefits health in 2011-12 was spent by each local authority in England on (a) prevention services, (b) communicating equipment and adaptations, (c) telecare, (d) crisis response services, (e) maintaining eligibility criteria, (f) re-ablement and (g) mental health. Paul Burstow said that in September 2011, the Department collected information from primary care trusts to understand how the transfer of NHS money was progressing and on which services it was being used. A demonstrative graph of all of the forms that the money is being spent on can be found in the NHS publication "The Quarter".

He added that when the information was collected, the majority of money had yet to be transferred, but agreements had been made which set out on which services the money would be spent.

The proportion of £648 million NHS transfer to local authorities was spent on different services as follows:

  1. Prevention (not including community equipment and adaptations) -10%
  2. Community equipment and adaptations - 5%
  3. Telecare - 4%
  4. Crisis response services - 8%
  5. Maintaining eligibility criteria - 18%
  6. Re-ablement - 18%
  7. Mental health - 5%

The remainder of the transfer was spent on the following services:

  • Integrated crisis and rapid response services - 8%
  • Bed-based intermediate care services - 10%
  • Early supported hospital discharge schemes - 8%
  • Other services - 14%

The MP also quizzed the Minister over his plans to introduce a national assessment framework for social care. Paul Burstow replied saying that the Government will publish their plans for social care reform in a care and support White Paper and progress report on funding in the spring. This will include responding to the recommendations made by the Law Commission and Commission on Funding of Care and Support on assessment.

Philip Davies MP received a reply to his question to the Work and Pensions Minister asking how much has been paid in each of the last three years in winter fuel payments to people in care homes. Steve Webb said that the requested information is not available as DWP datasets do not identify people who are resident in care homes receiving winter fuel payments.

Tim Farron MP had asked the Health Department how many people have received care packages following an assessment by social services in each local authority in each of the last five years. Paul Burstow replied saying that data on the provision of care packages provided by Councils with Adult Social Services Responsibilities (CASSR) is collected and published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre via the National Adult Social Care Intelligence Service.

During Prime Ministers Questions on Wednesday Gordon Marsden MP observed that study after study showed that it is crucial for older people that NHS services work closely with social care. His primary care trust in Blackpool has been doing that by working alongside the council's social services in the same set of offices. He asked why the Deputy Prime Minister was supporting a Bill that scraps trusts and such co-operation, and that puts the health of older people, including those in his constituency, at risk.

Nick Clegg MP in responding said that he backed a Bill that included, for the first time, statutory obligations to integrate social and health care. He agreed that one of the abiding failings of the health service is that social and health care are not properly integrated. There has not been much integration over the past ten years but Government was trying to change that. He added that the creation of health and wellbeing boards will bring together representatives of the NHS and social care.

Wednesday 14 March

On Wednesday, Jim Cunningham MP received an answer from Paul Burstow to his question on what recent steps he has taken to improve (a) cancer, (b) accident and emergency, (c) paediatric and (d) geriatric services in the West Midlands. In response to geriatric services, Paul Burstow said that the provision of national health services is a matter for the local NHS. The Department encourages providers to increase the quality of their services to older people, by sharing best practice, bringing people together, and putting in place the right system incentives. The Department aims to keep older people well and out of hospital; to help older people regain their independence after a period of support; to provide older people with advice and choice around their end of life care; and to give older people a greater say in their care.

On Thursday Paul Burstow responded to Tim Farron’s question on what estimate he has made of the cost of (a) continuing care assessments and (b) core assessments by social services in each local authority in each of the last five years. Paul Burstow said that no assessment of the cost to local authorities of continuing health care, and core assessments by social services had been made.