HL Deb 07 April 2003 vol 647 cc1-4

Baroness Gale asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to meet the specific needs of people who care for someone with Parkinson's disease.

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, all carers are entitled to an assessment to determine their needs as carers and eligibility for support.

The carers' grant, which will more than double to £185 million by 2006, supports local councils in providing short breaks for carers to enable them to continue caring. The Department of Health is also funding several projects through Section 64 to support all carers, including those of people with Parkinson's disease.

Baroness Gale

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for her positive reply, especially as this week is Parkinson's Awareness Week, during which we are concentrating on carers. Is the Minister aware that one in 20 people suffering from Parkinson's disease is under 40? Consequently, many carers are young people. What special efforts are the Government making to ensure that those young carers have a better quality of life, bearing in mind that they could be long-term carers?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, it is a pleasure to mark Parkinson's Awareness Week and to pay tribute in any way we can to all the people who care for those suffering from the disease. We are conscious of the fact that many carers are likely to be young; indeed, throughout the country there may be as many as 50,000 young carers altogether.

Our policy has been to recognise that there is a balance to be struck between endorsing what they do and helping them to care, which is something that many of them take pride in, and making sure that they have the support. We must ensure that they are not caring inappropriately, that the burden is not too great and that they are not sacrificing their education. For example, we are making it clear within the carers' strategy that they are a priority. Within the Quality Protects programme, they have a very high priority in terms of social services. We have allocated 20 per cent of the carers' grant especially for their services, along with children's services. We have also funded initiatives, such as the Children's Society's Young Carers Initiative, which works with young people to enable the development of guidance that will draw on their experience so that we know how best to support them.

Baroness Pitkeathley

My Lords, would my noble friend agree that paid employment is enormously helpful to carers in combating the social isolation and economic deprivation often associated with long-term caring, such as for Parkinson's disease patients? What is the Government's policy on helping carers to remain in or return to the workplace?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, it is absolutely essential that we support carers as much as we can, to balance the life of care with the work that many of them need and want to do. For example, tomorrow we will be laying regulations to make provision for direct payments, which will enable carers to buy-in the services that they want at their request. They will be able to buy personal care, for example, which will give them more flexibility and choice to go out to work. We have also raised the earnings limit to £77 from this April, which means that they will be able to earn a little more in work.

In addition, Carers UK is working with the Department of Health on a project, for which we have great hope, called Action For Carers and Employment. That project is examining the barriers to employment and considering how we can work effectively to remove them at a local level.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, I should declare an interest, as I have a husband with Parkinson's disease, along with other conditions. Is the Minister aware that there is a very serious shortage of neurologists? In the whole of north Yorkshire, where I live, there is not one specially trained neurologist with a special interest in Parkinson's, nor is there a specially trained nurse.

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, we are aware that there is a shortage of neurologists nationally. I can tell the noble Baroness that the latest workforce projections suggest that by March 2004, there may be sufficiently trained specialists to increase numbers in neurology by about 80 over the 2000 figure. That is obviously good news. We also have the long-term care workforce team considering the whole range of issues presented by the shortage of neurologists in many long-term conditions. We are attacking the problem very systematically.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, following on from the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, will the Minister tell me at which point people become eligible for a carer if they have Parkinson's disease? Is it immediately on diagnosis, or is there a certain stage at which they require full-time care? That question tends to relate to the previous question.

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, as I understand it, if one was caring for someone with Parkinson's disease and in touch with a local GP, one could ask for some advice about how one might go about getting any sort of assistance. It may be low-level assistance, depending on the stage that the disease has reached. It would be important for social services to be notified that there was a need. Parkinson's disease is progressive, so we must build in the ability for local support to grow alongside the need itself. That should happen as early as possible.

Baroness Barker

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether support for people with Parkinson's and their carers will be included in the forthcoming national service framework on long-term conditions? Will the NSF be introduced with resources to back its implementation?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, the NSF will certainly include Parkinson's, along with other neurologically dependent diseases and conditions. As the noble Baroness knows, the purpose of the NSF is to set the highest possible standards and to establish the quality frameworks to ensure that care and treatment are as good as they can be and, by implication, that the resources will be there to deliver the objectives.

Earl Howe

My Lords, can the Minister say any more about the voucher scheme that was announced towards the end of last year designed to give carers short breaks?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, the regulations on the voucher scheme for respite care will be laid at the beginning of May, if not sooner, and implemented as soon as possible. That will add to the flexibility that carers will have to buy-in respite and short break support when they need it. Families with disabled children will also be eligible. We hope that the provision will enable families to plan for respite breaks over the year and that they will be provided with the kind of assistance that they need.

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