HC Deb 27 June 1989 vol 155 cc823-5
8. Mr. Thurnham

To ask the Secretary of State for Health whether he has received any representations about the number of handicapped children in institutional care; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Freeman

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State met a deputation from Exodus earlier this year to discuss mentally handicapped children in hospital care. We have not received any representations about other groups of handicapped or disabled children in recent times.

Mr. Thurnham

Will my hon. Friend do all in his power to assist British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering, and other such bodies, to find homes for handicapped children when they are needed? Does he accept that the figure of 5,500 handicapped children in institutional care, shown in the the first-ever survey by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, is far too high—about twice as high as previous estimates?

Mr. Freeman

About three in 100 children are born with some disability—that is, about 360,000—and about 5,500 are in institutional care. I share my hon. Friend's enthusiasm for putting as many of them as possible into proper family care: we provide the agency to which he refers with about £300,000 a year, and support it strongly.

Mr. Ashley

Is the Minister aware of the staggering increase in the number of children and adults in short-term institutional care—from 11,000 in 1975 to 36,000 in 1985, according to the Audit Commission? Is there any way in which he can avoid the charge that those figures are an absolute condemnation of the level of support services in the community?

Mr. Freeman

The right hon. Gentleman is certainly right that the number of children undergoing short-term care in institutions has risen. That is partly a reflection of the fall in the number of children in long-term institutional care. Most children going into temporary care are there for between one and three months.

Mr. Favell

The Griffiths report recommends that each social services department should ensure that adequate facilities exist for handicapped people in the community in each local authority area. That is fair enough, but is it sensible to suggest that social workers should assess the individual needs of each handicapped person? Would it not be far better for general practitioners to do that, and to take responsibility for their patients? After all, primary health care teams have doubled in size in recent years, and there are adequate facilities to deal with the problem.

Mr. Freeman

I agree with my hon. Friend's sentiments. Doctors have an important role to play, and we shall keep his suggestion under careful review.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Is it not an affront to handicapped children in institutional care, and also outrageous, that many of the most important sections of the all-party Disabled Persons Services, Consultation and Representation Act 1986 are still awaiting implementation three years after Royal Assent? Does that not diminish the standing of the House? Is the Minister aware that local authorities of all persuasions now complain about a lack of resources with which to provide services under the parent Act, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970? When will he respond to the just demands of disabled people and their organisations?

Mr. Freeman

The Government announced yesterday that there would be a response to Griffiths before the summer recess, and that there will be a debate, in Government time, at the appropriate time thereafter. The issues that the right hon. Gentleman raises will be addressed then.