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Health Inequalities

Volume 548: debated on Tuesday 17 July 2012

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 established the first legal duties to reduce health inequalities for national health service commissioners and for the Secretary of State. Both the NHS and public health outcomes frameworks will have a strong focus on reducing inequalities in access to health services, and on inequalities in the health outcomes of the population as a whole.

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the inequalities in diagnoses of dementia around the country. What steps has he taken to reduce that variation in diagnosis rates?

As I think my hon. Friend will know from recently published data, some of the pilot work involving general practices demonstrated that it was possible to increase substantially the number of patients diagnosed with dementia. I believe that during the pilot period there was an increase of two thirds, more than 60%, in the number diagnosed. As part of the Prime Minister’s dementia challenge, we are using quality incentives in the NHS to identify and refer patients who are admitted to hospital with potential dementia in order to improve their diagnosis and treatment. We hope that that and other measures will identify more of those whose dementia is at an early stage, and will also assist their treatment.

One of the key elements in the tackling of inequality is funding. The funds allocated to the clinical commissioning groups was set out in the operating framework, which related to GPs’ patient lists. It has now been changed to take account of data from the Office for National Statistics. Will the Secretary of State assure me that deprived areas will not lose out on the funds allocated to CCGs—not the per-head funds, but the funds allocated to CCGs as a result of the change?

As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, we will publish the allocations for 2013-14 later this year. However, we are ensuring, I think rightly, that the allocations to clinical commissioning groups for NHS services reflect the population, because they have a responsibility for the whole population. Some parts of the country, particularly London, have substantial unregistered populations, which often include the groups who are most at risk.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of his important initiatives that could reduce health inequalities is the development of personal care budgets, which give real power and choices to patients, and also have the potential to reduce hospital admissions and costs?

Yes, since the election we have pushed forward with offering access to a personal care budget to those who are in receipt of care and support. At the time of the last election, about 168,000 people were exercising that right. The figure now is over 432,000, and we are extending the scheme so that, for example, people in receipt of continuing health care through the NHS will not lose the opportunity for personal care when the NHS takes over that responsibility; instead, that will continue as a personal budget under the NHS.

Does the Secretary of State think any of the steps he set out in his original answer will lead to a repeat of the shock rise in the number of cancelled operations in the local hospitals serving my constituents, the figures for which were recently set out in a written answer to me by his Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns)?

The number of cancelled operations rises at certain times during the winter, and it did so during last winter. We are clear about the necessity of ensuring that patients do not have cancelled operations if we can avoid that, and, in particular, that those whose operations are cancelled have access to treatment rapidly thereafter. The key is to make sure, as we have done, that patients have timely access to treatment under the referral to treatment times guidelines, and as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the average waiting time for treatment in the NHS has fallen since the election, as has the number of people waiting a long time for treatment. That is the strongest measure for ensuring all patients get timely to access to care.