HC Deb 24 February 1998 vol 307 cc163-4
8. Mr. Drew

What proposals he has to improve working arrangements between health and social services before the report of the royal commission. [29322]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Paul Boateng)

A range of measures have been put in place, including the introduction of health action zones, joint health authority and local authority investment plans and a requirement for better joint arrangements for multi-disciplinary assessments. Partnership and collaboration were also key themes in "The New NHS" White Paper and the "Our Healthier Nation" Green Paper.

Mr. Drew

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. The Secretary of State has talked on a number of occasions of the Berlin walls between social services departments and health bodies. We have a particular problem in Gloucestershire because of a rise in the amount of bed blocking. Will my hon. Friend consider having pilot projects in advance of the royal commission to find out whether we can get a better working arrangements between social services departments and health bodies and to scrutinise how the money is being expended?

Mr. Boateng

We are certainly sympathetic to pilot projects and will develop in several ways our initiative to improve working relationships between health authorities and local authorities. We started that work this winter and my hon. Friend's constituency—which has received £200,000 of extra money—is an example of how that work is being cemented. We know that health authorities and local authorities work better together. They want to work together better; we are giving them the means to do so.

Mr. Gill

Does the Minister accept that the problem of bed blocking was entirely predictable and, therefore, that the most recent round of local authority funding should have reflected the problem? Will he specifically examine the current problems in Shropshire?

Mr. Boateng

The hon. Gentleman really is hoist by his own petard: Conservative Members are responsible for Shropshire's current budget. We are open to representations from any Shropshire Member—indeed, I will soon meet a Shropshire Member and a chief executive. We want—as we have done in our response to winter pressures—to underpin the relationship between local authorities and health authorities. That is a matter not only of resources but of cementing the will to work together and of providing—as we will do—the legal framework to enable them better to do so.

Mr. Dawson

Does my hon. Friend share my concern that, of 38 questions on today's Order Paper, this is the only one that even obliquely refers to the work of the social work profession? Does he agree that, despite the Health Committee's recent excellent scrutiny of the subject of children in care, the crucial work of social services requires more scrutiny? Will he consult other Ministers to determine whether there are other ways in which that work can be done?

Mr. Boateng

I hear what my hon. Friend says, but questions are a matter for the House and for hon. Members. I am heartened by the work of the all-party Committees, which have shown that hon. Members are very interested in social care and are determined—as Ministers are—not only to give it a higher profile but, importantly, to create the circumstances in which health care and social care work ever more closely together.