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Health: InterAct Reading Service

Volume 694: debated on Tuesday 24 July 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they propose to support the service provided by the InterAct Reading Service, which supplies professional actors to read to stroke patients in hospital.

My Lords, I know that the InterAct Reading Service is well regarded by healthcare professionals and has become an example of good practice in its field. I understand that St Thomas's trust in London has undertaken a qualitative evaluation of the service which showed that stroke patients were positive about it. I recently heard Max Stafford-Clark speak about the huge benefits that the service brought him and fellow stroke patients in terms of reading and conversational interaction when he was recovering from a stroke in hospital.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Does she agree that the service could be extended into people's homes? A friend of mine has suffered a stroke and she has her children to read to her, but that cannot be so for everyone. Does my noble friend also agree that this service could be extended to patients recovering from eye surgery and allied problems?

My Lords, my noble friend is clearly right that this service could be extended into people's homes and to people who suffer from other conditions. However, I understand that the InterAct Reading Service is a charity. Therefore, it is up to the charity itself to decide the scope of its service.

My Lords, my husband benefited greatly from this service and I therefore commend it. However, does the Minister agree that the best thing to do with strokes is to prevent them? If they are unpreventable, there should at least be early recognition. She can rely on me to remind noble Lords about the FAST formula—the face, arm and speech test. Early recognition would do such a lot to help these patients. However, I support the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell.

My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Baroness. On the promotion of recognition and awareness, I pay tribute to the work of the Stroke Association, which does such a magnificent job in this area.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, if a charitable service is a success, the Government have a duty at least to encourage it to expand its activity to all parts of the country, as we have actors or people with acting experience in all parts of the country?

My Lords, I think that the Government will be very helpful in supporting the charity. I am not saying that we will do so in financial terms, but I am sure that we wish to support its expansion throughout the country. I know that it strives to work in hospitals up and down the country.

My Lords, as the Minister recognises that this is a beneficial service, will she do everything possible to encourage all hospitals and hospices to make this service available for patients with stroke? I declare an interest as a council member of the Stroke Association.

My Lords, as noble Lords may be aware, the Government are conducting a consultation about stroke strategy. We have published a document called A New Ambition for Stroke, which is being discussed up and down the country. Perhaps people could include that document in their discussions with the Government in the context of the new stroke strategy.

My Lords, given the Government’s renewed interest in volunteering, might some of the proposals made by my noble friend Lady Rendell find an appropriate place in their considerations?

My Lords, that is a very interesting and useful thought, which we should mention to the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, whom I understand will be advising the Government on volunteering strategy.

My Lords, I fear that it is, because professional actors are best able to expand on the readings that they give. So I am afraid that in this instance the talents displayed by my noble friend will be wasted.

My Lords, does the Minister share my concern at the report last year from the Public Accounts Committee in another place that only half of stroke patients receive rehabilitation services that meet their needs in the six months following discharge and that after 12 months the figure falls to 25 per cent? Does the Minister agree that there is quite a long way to go before stroke rehabilitation services are at an acceptable level across the country?

Yes, my Lords, I agree. We have made tremendous progress in dealing with stroke but clearly have much further to go, as the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office pointed out. These are the very issues that we shall address in the new strategy, which will be launched at the end of this year.