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Care Homes: Human Rights

Volume 693: debated on Wednesday 27 June 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How the human rights of vulnerable people in private care homes paid for with public funding will be protected, in the light of the House of Lords judgment in the case of YL (by her litigation friend the Official Solicitor) (FC) v Birmingham City Council and others.

My Lords, on Monday, I met the other organisations that intervened in YL. We discussed how to ensure respect for the human rights of older people in care. I am particularly interested in investigating how to use a human rights framework to ensure that all older people in care are looked after properly. I have also spoken to colleagues from the Department of Health, and we shall engage with representatives of the care sector in considering our way forward.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very helpful reply. Will she confirm, again, that human rights protection applies to all vulnerable people, regardless of whether they qualify for publicly funded care? Will the Government take immediate action, probably followed by legislation, bearing in mind that frail and sick—mostly elderly—people cannot wait very long? Will they seize the opportunity presented by the forthcoming review of national minimum standards for care homes to include respect for human rights as a core standard? Will they also seize the opportunity of the merger of inspectorates in 2009 to make every care home that is subject to inspection also subject to the Human Rights Act?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for joining the meeting on Monday and for giving me the benefit of her views. I understand the desire for us to act with speed. She will know that I am looking at what we might do within the framework of care standards, the review and the forthcoming legislation.

My Lords, going beyond the important question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, about vulnerable people in care homes, has the Minister noticed that the only Lord of Appeal in the judgment who referred to the stated intention of the Home Secretary at the time, Jack Straw—and, for that matter, of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, whom I am delighted to see here today—indicated in her speech that it was made absolutely clear at the time that private bodies providing services that were previously performed by statute were intended to be covered by the Human Rights Act? If the noble Baroness has noted that, as I am sure she has, will she tell us how she can consult urgently on ways of restoring the Human Rights Act to what its architects, including the noble and learned Lord who was then on the Woolsack and the Home Secretary, as well as others who supported them, intended at the time?

My Lords, as I have indicated, my present approach is to look with some urgency at what we might do within the care standards framework. The noble Lord will be aware that one of the issues considered in the judgment was whether the Human Rights Act applied only to those citizens in care homes that were publicly funded. My ambition is to cover all elderly people in care, and I intend to do so.

My Lords, how did these most vulnerable people get left out? Will the Minister assure us that health and safety will be top of the list for care homes?

My Lords, it is not a question of these elderly people being left out. We want to see the highest possible quality care for all elderly people in care homes, as, indeed, is provided by the vast majority of providers. The question is how to enshrine in care home operations the Human Rights Act in an appropriate manner to make sure that people in care are treated with respect and dignity.

My Lords, I raised this question during the debate on social care recently and had a helpful response from the Minister. Will she say what she means by “utmost urgency” in terms of timescale?

My Lords, the judgment is a week old. I convened the meeting on Monday and spoke to my honourable friend Mr Lewis yesterday. The ambition is, as part of the review, to look now at what might be done within the regulatory framework for care standards. I do not yet have a definitive answer from the professionals in either of the departments but, if we are able to do something, it is possible that we can do it by amendments to regulations very speedily. I am looking both at a short-term solution, which this may well provide, and at a longer-term solution, for which I am sure I shall have the benefit of the expertise of noble Lords on human rights as well as that of people involved with care homes directly.

My Lords, is the Minister entirely convinced that the training of the people who are to look after these vulnerable people is adequate and healthy for its purpose?

My Lords, my experience as chair of a health authority dealing with many private care homes is that it was adequate; indeed, it was extremely good. However, we want to make it clear that we have high expectations that those who look after our vulnerable elderly people have proper training and understand their responsibilities, including in basic care, but within the framework that we expect all citizens in care homes to be treated properly, with respect and dignity.

My Lords, has any cost-benefit analysis been made on whether it is cheaper and better for elderly people to be treated in private homes or in publicly built, owned and run institutions?

My Lords, on this of all days I hesitate to stray into the Department of Health’s policy areas. However, noble Lords will know well that the question for whoever delivers the care is to ensure that the standards applied are as high as they possibly can be. There are many private providers who provide excellent care for elderly people, and I commend them for it. This is about making sure that, where elderly people are cared for, they have the backdrop of the Human Rights Act to make sure that they are treated properly and certainly with respect.