HC Deb 08 June 1999 vol 332 cc461-2
17. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

What action he is taking to amend the regulation of private health care for the elderly. [85014]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. John Hutton)

The Government set out their plans for regulating nursing and residential homes, domiciliary care and other social services in the White Paper "Modernising Social Services". We also made a commitment to consider further the regulation of health care and, in fulfilling it, we will shortly be consulting widely on the future regulatory arrangements for private and voluntary health care. Our aim is to establish a modern regulatory structure that will meet the need to protect the public and patients, particularly those who are vulnerable or elderly.

Helen Jackson

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer, but he will be aware that, in Sheffield as elsewhere, there has been a fairly rapid reduction in the number of acute medical care beds in hospitals. There was consternation recently when the Royal Hallamshire hospital proposed the closure of a further 22 acute medical beds for the elderly. Most of those patients will almost certainly go into or under private health care in the future. How will my hon. Friend reassure the public, through regulation, that moving from health service beds to private care beds will lead to absolutely no diminution in the medical and nursing care that they receive?

Mr. Hutton

I can certainly confirm to my hon. Friend that the closure of the 22-bed rehabilitation ward for elderly people in her constituency, about which she is concerned, will not now go ahead, and I am sure that she will be relieved to hear that. She, like me, would agree that it is important that we regulate the private health care sector properly to ensure maximum protection for the public. There is a general consensus that the current regulatory system is out of date; it is unsatisfactory and not particularly independent. For example, it treats private hospitals as nursing homes and does not reflect the increased range and complexity of private sector work.

I can also confirm to my hon. Friend that the national service frameworks will apply equally to the private sector and to NHS hospitals—they are there for the private sector to use. The new arrangements and guidelines that will come from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence will also be available for use, if the private sector so chooses.

Under those new arrangements, we must ensure that patients who use the private sector receive high-quality care. We are determined to do that, and we are consulting widely. We shall listen to all the views that are expressed during the consultation process.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Will the Minister reintroduce tax relief on private health insurance for the elderly?

Mr. Hutton