HL Deb 10 February 2003 vol 644 cc457-9

Baroness Greengross asked Her Majesty's Government:

How they are ensuring that vulnerable adults in care homes and using domiciliary care receive the highest standards of care and are protected from abuse.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath)

My Lords, we have issued guidance to the field on action to protect vulnerable adults from abuse. We have also established the National Care Standards Commission, which will work with providers to ensure that service users receive good quality care.

Baroness Greengross

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I feel positive about the actions being taken for the future but there is much to worry about now. Care standards are dependent on the quality of agency staff, but we hear of poor standards of training and competence. Many vulnerable adults are at risk because the Criminal Records Bureau is so over-committed that it is, quite understandably, concentrating on children. Does the Minister agree that vulnerable adults are at risk and that the protection of vulnerable adults list is a potent safety net?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I agree that we must ensure that protection of vulnerable adults becomes a part of the normal business of statutory and voluntary agencies at local level. As to domiciliary care services, we are committed to introducing a regulatory framework. Regulations will come into force shortly. We are aware of the problems that have arisen with the Criminal Records Bureau. However, I can assure the noble Baroness that pre-employment checks are carried out in the sector.

Baroness Pitkeathley

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that the establishment of the General Social Care Council, with its remit for ensuring that care workers are properly trained, is an important step forward? Does he further agree that the codes of practice for employers and employees developed by the General Social Care Council, which are currently in circulation, will also be of great importance?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend about the potential of the General Social Care Council, which will embrace not only qualified social workers but all staff within the social care sector. However, its remit should go wider than that and extend to the training curriculum of NHS professionals. The recently published national service framework for older people makes the point that training within the curricula needs to cover these issues.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that Age Concern is presently conducting an exercise to promote its work in the voluntary field? Would it not be a good idea to use voluntary workers from organisations such as Age Concern to inspect homes and places where elderly people are looked after? This would involve no extra expense but would provide much expertise.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, we have a statutory inspection agency—the National Care Standards Commission—but I agree that organisations such as Age Concern have a wealth of experience. I would certainly encourage the National Care Standards Commission to enter into dialogue with such organisations, both nationally and locally. My department is supportive of the organisation Action on Elder Abuse, which has a phone line available for older people and their relatives who wish to draw attention to specific issues of abuse. It is doing excellent work in this area.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, does my noble friend's department liaise with the appropriate government department to ensure that agencies and private homes are paying the minimum standard wage to people who work in such homes?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, this is an important point. The National Care Standards Commission is concerned not only with the physical standards in homes but with staffing levels and managerial and employment issues. There is a statutory requirement on such homes in relation to the national minimum wage.

Baroness Barker

My Lords, I declare an interest in that I work for Age Concern England. Was the decision to create a hierarchy of vulnerability between children and older people based on evidence? If so, what was that evidence? If the decision to prioritise children was based on resources, will the Government agree to review that within a specified timetable? Will the Government publish the Carter review of the shambolic operation of the CRB?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I assume that the noble Baroness is referring to the CRB, the question of checks and the priority given to children. In view of the pressures on the CRB, there can be no doubt that the Government took the right decision. Anyone reading the report of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, in relation to Victoria Climbié would come to the same conclusion. I do not underestimate the problems in relation to older people nor the impact of abuse upon them. We were right to ensure that pre-employment checks were introduced. We hope that the problems in the CRB will be cleared up as soon as possible. The noble Baroness knows that an independent review team has been appointed. Ministers will consider its report and make announcements in due course.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland

My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that the enormous strides that have been made by the National Care Standards Commission in developing good practice in inspection and in regulation generally will be protected when these responsibilities move to the new super-regulator, the commission for social care inspection. I declare an interest as the vice-chair of the National Care Standards Commission.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

Yes, my Lords, the National Care Standards Commission has made good progress. It has an enormous responsibility, covering a wide range of care homes and other parts of the care sector, including independent hospitals. We shall, of course, want to take through into the new organisation the good work that it has undertaken.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, will the regulatory framework extend to agencies? It appears that agencies are where most of the problems arise—there is no question about that—particularly in the area of domiciliary care. Will there be an inspection service for domiciliary care served by agencies?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I can reassure the noble Baroness that the regulatory regime does extend to agencies. When the legislation was before Parliament we were concerned to make sure that the agencies came under a regulatory framework. There had not previously been a national registration scheme. This will fulfil a very important function.

Baroness Strange

My Lords, is the Minister aware that we were all once vulnerable children and may all become vulnerable older people? Therefore, my noble friend's Question affects everyone in this country.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

And indeed, my Lords, Ministers answering Questions in this House also feel vulnerable.

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