HC Deb 21 April 1986 vol 96 cc84-5W
Mr. Greenway

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he proposes to recruit a director for the national development team for mentally handicapped people; and what will be the future role and structure of the team.

Mr. Hayhoe

Advertisements to recruit a new director for the national development team are now being published in national newspapers and a range of professional journals. I pay tribute to the work of the first director, Dr. Gerry Simon, and to his successor, Dr. George Kerr, who gave up his appointment prematurely because of ill health. I also pay a particular tribute to the acting director, Mr. Jim Gardner, and his associate director, Mrs. Lotte Mason, who are seeing the team through an interregnum and introducing substantial improvements in the management of its business—to give the new director a firm basis on which to build.

The team has a crucial role at a time of major change in the services for mentally handicapped people and their families. It will continue to provide independent expert advice to health and local authorities on the development and operation of their mental handicap services in relation to current Government policy and priorities and information to Ministers about the state of current services, the nature and direction of change, and the implications for Government policies.

The strength of the team lies in the wide experience of its panel members from their vantage points as service providers and service users, able to commend good practice from personal experience; and to make a realistic and balanced assessment of local needs.

The Government's policy is that there should be good local services, capable of responding flexibly to differing needs and circumstances and provided by a variety of agencies working together in both the planning and delivery of services. They should be able to identify and to meet both the general and the special needs of mentally handicapped people and their families. We are talking about our relatives, friends and next door neighbours; but the better we know people the more keenly are we aware that they are all different and that standard packages will not do. The only right answers are relevant ones, flexible enough to change with changing needs—and where necessary to promote change. The team's wide experience of what is possible is invaluable.

The new director is expected to lead a team with a role and structure much as now, but with greater emphasis on establishing and promulgating good practice; on promoting co-operation between all those involved where accountabilities meet, and even sometimes properly overlap; and on looking, during visits and in developing guidelines and informing Ministers, at specific issues of key importance to the overall service. The team cannot be expected to carry out in-depth inspections of every aspect of a service. This is the continuing responsibility of local management and of consumer groups. The team can help by advising on monitoring mechanisms and on quality criteria.