HC Deb 02 May 2000 vol 349 cc17-8
12. Mrs. Sylvia Heal (Halesowen and Rowley Regis)

If he will make a statement on his plans to regulate and inspect domiciliary care agencies. [119065]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton)

The Care Standards Bill will introduce a new regulatory framework for home care services. We have amended it to ensure that all domiciliary care agencies—not only those contracting with local authorities—will be required to register and be inspected annually by the National Care Standards Commission. A consultation version of the proposed regulations and standards will be published later this year.

Mrs. Heal

I welcome what my hon. Friend says about including all domiciliary care agencies in the proposed regulations, but can he provide an assurance on domiciliary care workers in particular, many of whom do an excellent job, provide a high standard of care and enable people to remain in their homes, which is usually their choice? Sadly, there have been cases of care workers abusing or taking advantage of the people for whom they care. Will the regulations take into account not only quality of service, but the recruitment and training of staff employed by the agency?

Mr. Hutton

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance and she is right to say that enabling more people to stay longer at home is one of the principal objectives that we have set for social services. If we are to succeed, we need higher-quality domiciliary care services. A key part of that is making sure that the right people with the right training and the right supervision are employed in domiciliary care agencies. I give her an absolute assurance that, as we develop those new national standards, we will put a premium on ensuring that domiciliary care workers are properly vetted, trained and supervised in future.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam)

During the drafting of the domiciliary care regulations, will the Minister consider the difficulties that many private sector providers of such services face with the contracts and spot contracts that they are being given by local authorities? They are set at such unrealistically low prices that even now they find it difficult to provide a quality service: we know that many are leaving the residential sector and are beginning to abandon the provision of services at home. Insufficient resources are being allocated to guarantee the quality that he and I both want to be provided.

Mr. Hutton

I will consider the point that the hon. Gentleman raises, but I remind him that social services are being resourced at a record level. There is a significant increase year on year—more than twice the rate of inflation is going in—but how local authorities decide to use those additional resources and the rates at which they contract are matters for them. We have made it clear that we do not want rates to be set mechanistically, but we will look into those issues. I am sure he agrees that we need high-quality domiciliary care and residential care services and we expect local authorities to make sure that those services are available locally.