asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what evidence he has that so-called "granny bashing" is a growing problem; and if he will set up an investigation to establish the relationship between this problem and the need to care for elderly relatives.
Domiciliary care staff are well aware of the need to be on the alert for any possible signs of ill-treatment but I have no evidence that this problem is increasing. I have, however, decided to fund a research project into the support needed by families caring for elderly relatives. I am sure that good neighbours can be an important factor in helping to provide such support.
While thanking the Secretary of State for his announcement, I wonder whether he is fully aware that many people suffer great hardship from looking after elderly relatives for long periods, especially in areas where there is an acute shortage of geriatric beds. Will he do more to increase the supply of geriatric beds so that relatives can get a break from caring for elderly relatives, and will he see that more community support is available for caring for these elderly people?
I agree absolutely about the need for more geriatric beds. Also, it is essential that there should be more provision for these elderly people in the community. It is interesting that in the joint financing project a high proportion is devoted to helping people in this category. The purpose of the research is very important. There is a whole range of specific factors, such as incontinence and sleep disturbance, which provoke crises in families looking after elderly people. The research will investigate all the facts and the possibility of relieving measures, such as measures for dealing with incontinence, laundry services, sitter-in services, night sitting and night nursing facilities, and a whole range of other services to assist families who have the responsibility of caring for elderly relatives.
I appeal for shorter questions and shorter answers.
As my right hon. Friend spent much of last Friday in my constituency, did he take note of the prodigious work done in hospitals there—hospitals that are grossly under-staffed—and in domiciliary services? Does he accept that, while his research project is welcome, it is no substitute whatever for more help in the hospitals and more domiciliary care for the elderly?
What I saw in my hon. and learned Friend's constituency was one of the finest examples of a new community hospital, which at the moment is dedicated entirely to providing support services for precisely the sort of elderly people whom we are talking about. I thought that it was a prime example of the sort of service that the Health Service can provide and is increasingly trying to provide to meet just this problem.