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Care Standards

Volume 536: debated on Tuesday 22 November 2011

6. What steps he is taking to raise the standards of care provided by health care workers and care assistants. (81800)

I have commissioned Skills for Health and Skills for Care in partnership with employers, unions, regulators, educators and others to develop a code of conduct and minimum training standards for health care support workers and adult social care workers in England. This will give employers and patients confidence in the employment and standards of staffing at all levels. I expect the final report and recommendations by September 2012.

The Secretary of State knows that I believe in less, not more, regulation, but given the increasing role and responsibilities of health care assistants, particularly with the elderly, does he agree that the time has come both to recognise their increased responsibilities and to provide safeguards at a national level by requiring them to be on a national register?

My hon. Friend will know that health care and social care support workers do responsible jobs and that the responsibility for them lies principally with their employers and the staff who supervise them. We made provision in the White Paper we published last December for a process of assured voluntary registration. What I announced and referred to a moment ago will give a code of conduct and standards that will form a basis for an assured voluntary registration scheme in future.

One key care standard is the time that people have to wait for their treatment. Labour got waiting times down to an historic low, and we warned the Secretary of State what would happen if he relaxed the 18-week standard. Figures show that the number of patients waiting longer than 18 weeks is up by 43% and, despite the U-turn that the Government have made on the use of targets, is not the problem that they have been so fixated on their top-down reorganisation that they lost control of waiting lists? Surely it is time for them to drop the Health and Social Care Bill and focus on the things that really matter to the people using and working in the NHS.

I am sorry, but that was all completely synthetic anger on the hon. Gentleman’s part. The average time that patients have been waiting in the NHS for treatment continues to be between eight and nine weeks. It has been so ever since the last election. The operational standard under the previous Government and now for the 18-week waiting time is that at least 90% of patients who are admitted for treatment should be admitted and treated within 18 weeks, and 95% of outpatients. Both of those operational standards continue to be met. Last week I made it clear that whereas the previous Government abandoned people who went beyond 18 weeks—and there were 250,000 of them who went beyond 18 weeks—we will not abandon those forgotten patients. We will make sure that they, too, are brought into treatment as soon as possible.