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Primary Care (Older People)

Volume 584: debated on Tuesday 15 July 2014

It is a particular pleasure to be here this morning, although I appreciate that that feeling may not be reciprocated on all sides of the House.

Our NHS will not be sustainable unless we totally transform out-of-hospital care. That is why we have introduced the £3.9 billion merger of the health and social care systems, and reforms to the GP contract. We are encouraging clinical commissioners to be responsible for all out-of-hospital commissioning.

I am delighted that my right hon. Friend is answering questions today. Will he confirm that the changes announced will mean that frail elderly patients in Gravesham will have a single person to co-ordinate their care?

There is agreement across the House that we need a focus on frail elderly patients and a system in which everybody knows, for their mum, dad or grandparents, that there is someone in the NHS where the buck stops in relation to complex, long-term conditions. That is a condition of the better care fund, so I hope that that will make a big difference in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

The Secretary of State mentioned integration. Good care and support for older people in their own homes are vital, yet a constituent visited me recently to say that she simply could not find a decent trustworthy care company to look after her relative. Will the Secretary of State join me in calling for all local authorities to sign up to the ethical care charter?

I do not know what the charter says, but I am happy to have a look at it. I agree with the hon. Lady’s sentiments. The important change we need to make is to understand that it is a false economy not to look after people who are vulnerable—those who need help washing, getting out of bed and feeding every day. Scrimping on such care is incredibly dangerous: it costs the NHS more, but most of all it means that those people are not treated with the dignity and respect that they should be.

A recent Age UK report shows that older people are many times more likely to be moved multiple times in hospital, and that there is an attitude that they should not be using up hospital beds. What does my right hon. Friend suggest to tackle the problem, for example through improved guidance?

The attitude to which my hon. Friend refers is totally unacceptable. It is not specifically an NHS problem; we need to change the way of thinking across our society. In particular, I worry about people with dementia who are sometimes in hospital wards where they are not able to speak up for themselves. That is why we have introduced probably the toughest inspection regime of any hospital system anywhere in the world, and I hope it will make a real difference.

In view of the fact that there are currently 10 million people in the UK over 65, and the latest projections are for a further 5.5 million elderly people in 20 years’ time, what plans have the Government made to allocate and prioritise resources for the future care of older people with complex needs?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. The figure always in my mind is that by the end of the next Parliament we will have more than 1 million additional over-70s. We need to totally change the way we look after those people, through the single point of contact and a different attitude to continuity of care. One of the things that matters most to those people is the feeling that there is someone in the NHS who knows about their particular needs, their family and their carers. That is the big challenge for the NHS in the next few years.

The Health Secretary does not seem to realise that continuity of care is actually getting worse under him. The GP patient survey shows that the proportion of people who cannot regularly see their preferred GP has risen from 34% in 2012 to 39% in 2014, an increase equivalent to 1.2 million people. Experts say that that is one of the reasons why A and E is under so much pressure. Will he confirm that on Friday it will be precisely one year since hospital A and E departments last met his Government’s own A and E target?

What I will confirm is that the worst possible thing for continuity of care was Labour’s scrapping of named GPs in 2004. The single thing that makes the biggest difference is to have, for every frail and elderly person in our NHS, someone who is responsible. That is what we are bringing back.