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The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): The resources provided for social services by central Government have increased substantially since 1997 and will continue to grow in real terms over the next three years. Last year, the level of resources provided for social services increased in real terms by 3.8 per cent. They increased by a further 3.5 per cent. this year and will continue to rise by, on average, a further 3.4 per cent. per annum over the next three years. In 2001-02, we will be providing almost £10 billion for social services.
Mr. Colman: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and congratulate him and his colleagues on that massive increase in funding for social services. However, would he join me in condemning the proposals from the Tory party for the massive cuts in social services spending that are part of its £16 billion of cuts? In my borough of Wandsworth, that would lead either to a huge increase in council tax or--
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): I am sure that the Minister agrees that the partnership with the private sector in providing care home beds and nursing home beds is one to be welcomed. Has he received representations from social services departments pointing out that they cannot afford to pay the going rate for fees and are cutting the rates that are being paid? Beds are being closed in Dorset and across the United Kingdom. Will the Minister
Mr. Hutton: We have substantially increased resources for social services in every part of the country. However, the rate at which care--and particularly residential care--is commissioned is determined by precisely the local authorities that the hon. Gentleman identified. It has not been the policy of this or any previous Government to intervene directly and to set the commissioning rates for such care. We certainly do not intend to do that.
The hon. Gentleman is right. We are considering the current position carefully and our priority is to maintain capacity in all the various care sectors that are important. However, I point out to the hon. Gentleman that--as surely as night follows day--there is no doubt whatever that, if the Conservative party were returned to office, it would cut social services spending.
Mrs. Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale): Since my hon. Friend received our delegation, has he been aware of the success of the investment that was announced before Christmas for social services in Rochdale and especially for the long-term placement of elderly people who need to go into care homes? Will he also consider favourably the pilot that we shall present to him of a co-operative model and a co-operative commission which will take care homes into the next wave for the 21st century and ensure that we meet the care needs of more of the elderly in my constituency?
Mr. Hutton: I congratulate the NHS and the local authority in Rochdale, which have worked hard in recent months to reduce the problem of bed blocking. We have set out in the NHS plan our proposals for dealing with that issue over the next few years. We certainly welcome innovative solutions proposed either by local authorities or the NHS further to reduce the problem of bed blocking. We shall consider with interest any further proposals that come from Rochdale.
Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): My hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) referred to the unevenness of funding. Is the Minister aware of how the combination of the squeeze on funds for Kent social services and the heavy-handed approach of East Kent health authority to the regulation of nursing homes has led to the loss of 191 beds net in East Kent in just 12 months? That has created a bed-blocking crisis in our hospitals, which reached the point a fortnight ago where a 97-year-old woman had to wait two nights in casualty for a bed.
Mr. Hutton: I do not dispute the fact that there are pressures on the care home sector in Kent; that is obvious and is a matter of record. I hope, however, that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that, as a result of the announcements that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health made just before Christmas and as a result of the actions of the Government, Kent will have another £2.5 million added to its adult social services budget. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman's protestations will ring completely hollow and sound superficial until and unless the Conservative party accepts that it will match our spending on social services. To date, it has not done that.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ms Gisela Stuart): We are expanding the capacity of the national health service by providing extra beds, extra staff and extra hospitals. We are providing the biggest NHS funding boost for a generation--a growth of one third in real terms between 1999 and 2004. Our partnerships with the private sector will also ensure that even more NHS patients are treated and get the benefit of that extra investment.
Mr. Thomas: I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent reply. Is she aware that a revamped and modernised Northwood and Pinner community hospital to meet the intermediate care needs of Harrow patients is crucial to expanding local NHS capacity in my area? Will she consider visiting Harrow to discuss with local GPs how we can accelerate that process? Furthermore, while she is considering that reasonable request, will she try to discover, through the usual channels, whether there is a chance of the Leader of the Opposition making a series of visits to Harrow as part of my re-election campaign?
Ms Stuart: I am always open to reasonable invitations, but I find it difficult enough to deal with my own diary and would not for one moment want to assume responsibility for anyone else's--even if it did belong to the Leader of the Opposition.
I accept my hon. Friend's point about expanding the system. There have been more intermediate care and quicker discharges this winter under the Harrow and Brent health systems. We should not forget that in 1996-97, my hon. Friend's health authority received a cash increase of only 3.2 per cent. I am sure he is delighted that in 2000-01, it received the unprecedented increase of 8.6 per cent. As for his very special pleading on behalf of the hospital in his area, I heard what he said and I shall pass it on through the usual channels.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): What is the real cause of the hold-up in operations--the failure to have proper nursing planning so that the right staff are in post, the lack of intensive care beds, the problem of sterilised instruments or the bed blocking caused by the fact that not enough people are being released into social care homes?
Ms Stuart: The real problem is a combination of under-investment in the past 20 years and a cut both in general beds and in training places--investment, staff and hospitals have all been involved. In addition, there has been the problem of re-engineering systems. Before Conservative Members get too excited, they should never forget that they cut general and acute beds by 60,000 between 1979 and 1997 and that we will create an extra 7,000 by 2004. We are expanding the whole service, unlike the Conservatives who cut it consistently on every front.
Ms Stuart: We have announced some 100 major hospital schemes over the next 10 years, 38 of which have been given the go-ahead. I am acutely aware of my hon. Friend's concerns and I know that he has talked to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. As a constituency MP, I am in a similar position, and I very much hope that an announcement can be made by the end of the month. It is important to remember that the expansion of capacity did not happen under the Tories, who spent £30 million on consultation fees as part of the private finance initiative but did not manage to build a single hospital.
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring): Will the Minister comment on the facilitation of increased numbers of transplant operations? A series of measures were proposed in Westminster Hall in December 1999 to help to increase the number of organs available for transplants, including putting a donor registration form in the electoral communication that must be sent by law. The Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), gave a commitment to consider the proposals made by both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. What evaluation was made of those proposals and why has nothing been done?
Ms Stuart: I do not have the answers to the hon. Gentleman's specific questions, but I shall be happy to get back to him with details. I recently took part in an Adjournment debate on organ transplantation, in which I made it clear that, in 1990, when the Tory Government set up the regional centres, they were working on the assumption that the number of organs would steadily increase. Fortunately, however, we have reduced the number of car accidents and seen a great fall in the numbers, particularly of young people, dying from stroke. As a result, there has been a reduction in the number of available organs, but we are working together to increase organ donation.