HC Deb 10 January 1978 vol 941 cc1431-3
15. Mr. Newton

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what recent representations he has received from the British Kidney Patient Association concerning kidney machines and attendance allowance.

24. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will institute an inquiry into the criteria used by the Attendance Allowance Board in determining whether kidney patients dialysing at home are eligible for the attendance allowance.

Mr. Orme

The President of the British Kidney Patient Association wrote to the Department on 27th July.

It would not be proper to have an inquiry into the criteria used by the Attendance Allowance Board, because it is an independent statutory authority. If a claimant considers that a decision on review by the Board is erroneous in law, he can apply for leave to appeal to the National Insurance Commissioner on that question of law.

Mr. Newton

Is the Minister aware that great hardship and anxiety are being caused by the decision of the Attendance Allowance Board to refuse to pay the allowance to patients who dialyse on two days a week instead of three? That, appears to be a direct disincentive to the most efficient use of the machines, at a time when people are dying for want of them. If the Board cannot be persuaded to change its mind, surely the Minister should now change the law.

Mr. Orme

The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on the point. If matters are unsatisfactory, a change in the law will be necessary. However, in the meantime, the Government would welcome an appeal to the Commissioner. The Board is highly respected and independent and has given a number of reasons for its decision. I advise any patient who is dissatisfied to appeal.

Mr. Whitehead

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have a constituent who has already lost her appeal on that point? She dialyses twice a week, although she is on the machine for exactly the same time as if she were using it three times a week. Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the intense hardship of such people and of those who care for them? They are being forced either to use hospital dialysis or literally to wearing out their bodies by going back to dialysis three times a week.

Mr. Orme

I fully take the point that my hon. Friend makes. It raises the question whether the attendance allowance is a suitable benefit for such patients, in the light of the Board's decision. In that respect, the Government would be prepared to examine the position, but without commitment at this stage.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

The right hon. Gentleman said that he would welcome an appeal so that the matter could be tested. Did he have in mind the appeal by the constituent of his hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead)? Is the Minister now suggesting that another appeal might have a different effect, or is he not now prepared to act on the result of the appeal that has already been heard?

Mr. Orme

My information is that to date no appeal has been made to the National Insurance Commissioner, but I shall examine that point following what was said by my hon. Friend.

Mrs. Bain

Is the Minister aware that the reference to an appeal will be regarded by many home dialysis kidney patients as totally ineffective, and almost inhuman, in view of the distress that is being caused? Does he not agree that the real problem lies in the difference between the treatment of hospital patients and that of home dialysis patients and that there is need for the Government to bring in legislation to ensure equality of treatment?

Mr. Orme

I take the hon. Lady's point about the difference betwen the hospital patient and the home patient. Following the representations that have been made, the Government will take all these points into account.

Mr. Mates

As the Minister says that he would welcome the prospect of an appeal, will he say that he will accept an appeal by the National Insurance Commissioner on this matter? Is he aware that on another matter of a similar type his Department is appealing against the Commissioner, who has decided an appeal over an allowance in favour of one of my constituents?

Mr. Orme

I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that the appeal would be on a point of law, because it turns on the interpretation. We should clearly have to accept a decision on a point of law, whichever way it went. But we want to examine this matter more fully. It has now been brought, quite properly, to the House, and the Government will want to look at it.

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