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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr. Kevan Jones): I am today announcing a change to the role of the existing War Pensions Committees. This follows a review of their terms of reference and a consultation with organisations representing serving personnel and the ex-service community.
The new committees will be known as 'Veterans Advisory and Pensions Committees' and will initially be piloted across the country for a period of 12 months, with a review point at six months. There will be 13 committees established across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, made up of volunteers from a cross-section of the local community. Members will include health, social care and legal professionals with an interest in ensuring the best possible service is provided to veterans and their families.
Their role will consist of three main elements:
To act as advocates for implementing improved cross-Government support, including services outlined in the Service Personnel Command Paper and recently announced 'Welfare Pathway'.
To raise awareness, within their areas, of the above services, the War Pension scheme, Armed Forces Compensation scheme and the Veterans Welfare service.
To assist veterans, and their families in accessing local support services as described above. Further, to provide assistance and guidance to individuals in accessing the war pension scheme and armed forces compensation scheme and to provide an independent element to the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency's complaints process relating to these schemes.
By extending the role of the committees to include an advocacy role, at local level, we are demonstrating the commitment of the Government to embed these initiatives across the country.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ann Keen): The Department has today published "Achieving Excellence in Kidney Care: Delivering the National Service Framework for Renal Services", which outlines progress towards the standards and quality requirements of the national service framework, and highlights specific examples of good practice and innovation. The report also celebrates the first year of operation of the improvement organisation NHS Kidney Care, part of NHS Diabetes and Kidney Care.
Real progress to implement the national service framework has been made. The NHS is now a world-leader in the detection and management of chronic kidney disease in primary care, there has been a marked drop in MRSA infection rates among kidney patients as best practice in vascular access becomes more widespread, and there has also been a welcome reduction in the number of late referrals to renal replacement therapy services. Dialysis capacity has expanded through more main and satellite units, and progress continues to be
made in increasing the number of organ donors, particularly as the recommendations of the organ donation taskforce are put into action.
The report is, however, equally clear that there is no room for complacency and that there remains a lot more work to be done to take kidney services from good to great. Looking to the future, it is clear that a renewed focus on the issue of acute kidney injury (acute renal failure) is required as part of driving up standards of care across acute medicine. Another central and important theme is achieving real patient choice, and ensuring that a full range of treatment settings are available for all patients, including increasing capacity for home haemodialysis in line with NICE guidance. This would enable patients to more effectively self-care if it is clinically appropriate, and if they wish to make that choice.
"Achieving Excellence in Kidney Care: Delivering the National Service Framework for Renal Services" has been placed in the Library of the House and copies are available for hon. Members from the Vote Office.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Gillian Merron): I am pleased to announce that the Government's response to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee, genomic medicine inquiry report has been laid before Parliament. The Select Committee's report on the rapid developments in human genetics is extremely timely.
Since the Genetics White Paper 2003 "Our inheritance, our future", the Government have invested over £80 million to fund a broad-based programme of work that has put in place a framework for the National Health Service (NHS) genetics services today. These investments have already provided new levels of genetic knowledge, skills and services within the NHS. Following the review of the White Paper in 2008, the Government have been taking forward a series of actions:
to strengthen specialised genetic services;
position genetic services into the mainstream diagnostic pathway;
promote understanding across the NHS; and
generate new knowledge and applications.
In addition to this, the Medical Research Council and other research councils collectively invested over £45 million in genomic medicine in 2007-08.
The Government response reinforces our commitment to genetics research and aims to maintain our position as world leader in associated health research, development and innovation. It clearly sets out how we will continue to ensure the NHS is ready for future developments and that new technologies are properly developed and translated into clinical practice.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Phil Hope):
Following the 'Third Sector Funding and Investment Review' in 2008, and a subsequent procurement exercise conducted by the Department to appoint an organisation to manage and deliver a new 'health and social care
volunteering fund', the Government have today announced that they have awarded the contract to act as volunteering fund manager to a partnership led by ECOTEC, with PrimeTimers, Attend and CSV, who will deliver support linked to grant funding to enable third sector organisations to achieve their objectives for long term sustainability.
The volunteering fund will provide two distinct grant funding schemes: a local grant scheme aimed at supporting volunteering in health and social care, with awards made subject to applicants being connected at local level to commissioners; and a national portfolio scheme through which national organisations will be able to apply for more substantial awards to deliver more strategic or developmental volunteering programmes. The fund manager will also share good practice, disseminate learning and deliver training and development for local and national volunteering programmes.
Volunteers play a range of critically important roles in our communities, and in the context of health and social care: contributing to the delivery of high quality health, care and support services; improving health and well-being; helping to reduce health and social inequality. They frequently offer support to people at the most vulnerable points in their lives.
The future of health and social care provision places an ever stronger emphasis on better quality and more personalised services, creating even more potential for new roles and opportunities for volunteering that complement the services provided by the paid workforce and utilise the expertise of service users in the provision of services.
The volunteering fund will replace the existing opportunities for volunteering (OFV) scheme over the next three years. Building on the success of the OFV scheme since 1982, the new volunteering fund will be more closely aligned with Departmental strategic objectives; therefore increasing the impact of the Government's investment in volunteering in directly supporting their integration with the delivery of Departmental strategic outcomes.
Overall, ECOTEC's planned approach will support coherent investment, reinforce the role of volunteering in health and social care, and support implementation of the funding and investment review and the developing strategic vision for volunteering in health and social care.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. Mike O'Brien): The 10th report to Parliament on the Pharmaceutical Price Regulation Scheme (PPRS) was published today.
The Department published the first report on the PPRS in 1996 following a comment by the Health Committee that the "Department of Health should introduce greater transparency into the PPRS by publishing an annual report on the scheme". Since then, the Department has published a report to Parliament on the operation and management of the scheme most years. However, there has not been a report since July 2006 following the Office of Fair Trading's market study into the PPRS in 2007 and the renegotiation of
the PPRS in 2007 and 2008. This latest report covers developments since the last report and a description of the new 2009 PPRS.
A copy of the report has been placed in the Library and copies are available for hon. Members from the Vote office.
The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): On Monday 9 November I announced our intention to review the use of out-of-court disposals by criminal justice agencies. Today the Home Secretary, the Attorney-General and I are publishing the terms of reference for this review.
Out-of-court penalties and other similar interventions in one form or another have been available for a long time. They are designed to provide simple, swift and proportionate ways of responding to antisocial behaviour and low-risk offending and to save courts the time of listening to minor and undisputed matters. They also support rehabilitation and reparation, especially by young people, provide quick resolution to victims and free up time for the police and courts to focus on more serious offending.
Existing legislation and guidance on the use of out-of-court disposals is clear, but we have been concerned by reports of these disposals being used for apparently serious offences, including violent assaults. We are also concerned by the apparent variation between areas in the number of crimes brought to justice through the use of out-of-court disposals, by reports of the repeated use of such disposals even for low-level offences, and by the robustness of their enforcement.
We have therefore asked the Office for Criminal Justice Reform to conduct a review of the use of out-of-court disposals with the following terms of reference:
To examine evidence on the use and enforcement of out-of- court disposals for adults and youths by criminal justice agencies;
To identify any issues with current operational practices, including current performance and regulation frameworks, and compliance with legislation and published guidance;
To report to Ministers in order that they can issue a written statement to Parliament in March 2010 on emerging findings and the focus for the next phase of the review, including any further work required to improve the compliance of criminal justice agencies with legislation and guidance and to consider possible changes to the out-of-court disposals frameworks for adults and youths to improve transparency and confidence in the criminal justice system.
The objective of this first phase of the review is to ensure we have a proper understanding of the operation of the existing out-of-court disposals framework. To this end, and in consultation with key criminal justice partners, the review will examine:
i) national trends in the numbers of out-of-court disposals in the context of the level of crime, charged cases, court caseloads and convictions;
ii) local variation in the number of out-of-court disposals and operational practice, including performance management and quality assurance arrangements;
iii) the use of out-of-court disposals for serious offences, and the consultation with victims in such cases;
iv) evidence of the effectiveness of out-of-court disposals, including operational issues such as the repeat issue of disposals to offenders, compliance and enforcement, and any evidence of the outcomes they deliver for offenders, victims and the public's confidence in the criminal justice system; and
v) the efficiency of using out-of-court disposals, including evidence of their costs and benefits to criminal justice agencies, and any concerns about bureaucracy.
The findings from this first phase of the review will determine the work to be undertaken in the second phase of the review. The programme of work that will form the second phase of the review, and the timescales for this, will be set out in the further written statement I will issue to Parliament in March 2010.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Maria Eagle): Today I am publishing a report on the Government's strategy for diverting women away from crime. Prison is the right place for those who are dangerous and serious offenders but only 3 per cent. of the female population fall into that category.
Two years ago I announced our commitment to a fundamental change in how the criminal justice system deals with women. We believe rebalancing our spending from custodial provision to community provision will stop vulnerable women from becoming trapped in a cycle of crime. Women's offending is a complex problem which creates a burden on society, damage to children and families, and misery for the women themselves.
I am pleased to announce that having put in place an intensive, multi-agency approach, we are starting to make a difference, and I am today announcing a commitment to go further. We will:
Reduce the women's prison estate by 300 places by March 2011 and 400 places by March 2012 and divert resources from custody to the community to sustain the multi-agency community services we have established through grant funding.
Provide up to £5 million to improve approved premises accommodation for women offenders that are being closely supervised on release from custody, and for women offenders with high levels of need to keep them out of custody.
Make available funding of over £1 million to pilot a new project, from April 2010, to explore the benefits of early intervention for women with multiple needs from their first point of contact with the criminal justice system. Family intervention projects will target this group of women and their dependent children in up to 20 areas in England to provide intensive personalised support in a community setting. Dedicated key-workers will provide intensive support to vulnerable women and their families.
Fund enhanced bail support to provide mentoring and other provision to help over 500 more women settle in accommodation.
We have already made good progress with taking forward our strategy to divert women from crime. It takes time to effect change but we can already see a promising reduction in the number of women in prison and encouraging increase in the use of community orders for women.
These findings show we are moving swiftly towards our aim of a different, coherent and sustainable approach to help prevent vulnerable women from becoming trapped in a cycle of crime.
We have been investing to build the necessary community capacity to ensure that there are effective alternatives to custody for women who might otherwise be remanded into custody or given short prison sentences. Earlier this year I announced £15.6 million of new funding over two years, to invest in the provision of additional services in the community for women offenders, who are not a danger to the public, and women at risk of offending.
This funding has crucially given women offenders and those at risk of offending the engagement with the mainstream services they so often struggle to access. It has also enabled centres to give courts an alternative to short prison sentences by providing additional requirements that can be linked into a productive community sentence that can be more effective in cutting re-offending.
The issues that women and girls face are often multiple, complex and rooted in social exclusion; they commonly include mental health problems, drug and alcohol addiction, sexual and domestic abuse as well as concerns regarding their children's welfare, poverty and homelessness. By failing to address these needs we let down some of the most socially excluded people within our society today; the need to address these issues could not be clearer.
Through our work we aim to secure access for women to homes, jobs, mainstream health services, support to tackle drug and alcohol misuse and mental health problems, support for them and their children as a socially excluded group and as victims themselves.
Underpinning our strategy is the gender equality duty which is our main lever to ensure delivery of gender specific services. To promote awareness of how the gender equality duty supports a different approach to women offenders; share best practice and publicise the work and knowledge of local services within the community, a series of one day 'Women in Focus' stakeholder events have been held across the country, the evaluation of which will be published in early 2010.
The report sets out our progress and plans to consolidate and build on delivery of our strategy, to invest further in community provision, and to make more widespread changes to stop women committing crime and entering the criminal justice system. I have placed copies of the Update Report in the Libraries of both Houses. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.
I firmly believe that the approach we have been taking and the further announcements today will help transform for the better the way women offenders are managed. It will also contribute to our wider ambition to prevent women who are at risk of offending from entering the justice system.
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