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London Lighthouse: Funding

Volume 589: debated on Thursday 7 May 1998

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3.24 p.m.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will consider ways of assisting London Lighthouse to continue its work.

My Lords, first, I have to declare a personal interest as I was a member of the council of management of the London Lighthouse for four years at the beginning of the 1990s. My honourable friend the Minister for Public Health recently twice met representatives of the London Lighthouse to discuss its present position. She has agreed in principle to repeat the Department of Health grant of £150,000 for the year 1998–99. The Government are obviously aware that the London Lighthouse has decided to restructure its services which involves closure of its residential unit, sale of the main building and reciting other services from September. However, as that immediate restructuring requires transitional funding because of the Lighthouse's current financial difficulties, I am pleased to tell your Lordships that the Government have agreed a request from Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster health authorities for them to provide that funding by a loan to be repaid on the sale of the building.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in congratulating the noble Baroness on all that she has done for London Lighthouse over the past four-and-a-half years. Does the Minister not agree that it is premature to dismantle residential services such as those provided by London Lighthouse while the long-term effect of combination drug therapies is uncertain? Will the Minister continue to look at ways in which £2 million can be found from her department's budget so that London Lighthouse does not have to sell its site in September with very far-reaching consequences for all concerned?

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his kind comments. As I understand it, the local health authorities, which are the purchasers of services from the London Lighthouse, believe that even if there were to be, unfortunately, a rather sad conclusion to the experimental work in relation to the combination therapies, which, as the noble Earl suggests, have reduced the need for residential services, the health authorities themselves would be in a position to provide the beds which might be necessary. Of course, we all hope that that will not be the case.

My Lords, I too must declare an interest as I served on the council of the London Lighthouse with the Minister. Will she agree with me that much money, both voluntary and public, has gone into that building to make it an excellent site for healthcare? Does she agree with me that it would be very sad if that building and its gardens did not continue to provide healthcare as regards some aspects of respite care of the dying?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that it is a very substantial and attractive facility. As she will have understood from my original Answer, transitional funding has now been provided which should enable the current managers of the London Lighthouse to decide how best and appropriately that can be used when it is sold.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of a suggestion from the London Lighthouse, which I visited recently, to turn it into a centre for healthy living? Is there any future in that, either by London Lighthouse or another body using the same premises?

My Lords, I too have heard that suggestion raised informally. Theoretically, the London Lighthouse might indeed be an appropriate place for a healthy living centre, sited as it is in an area of social deprivation with the facility to which the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, referred. It is frankly too early to say what the long-term future may be. As the arrangements for funding healthy living centres are still under discussion, that would be a long-term project.

My Lords, as the number of deaths from HIV has halved in the past 12 months, there are many more people with HIV living in the country today. With more than 1,500 people visiting the centre every week, should not something more than a loan be provided to allow the centre to continue?

My Lords, as I said in my original reply, my honourable friend the Minister for Public Health has, in principle, agreed the substantial Section 64 grant to the London Lighthouse to enable it to continue precisely those services to support people with HIV who are living in the community. The question is where those services will be sited. I understand that London Lighthouse now feels that it will be able to provide the bulk of those necessary services but not from the site on which its residential unit is presently based.