Mr. Gareth Thomas
To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what plans he has to ringfence grants to fund purchases of wheelchairs and other community equipment; 
(2) what his response is to the Audit Commission's, Fully Equipped 2002: Assisting Independence—and if he will make a statement; 
(3) what action he has taken to ensure that funding given to health authorities, hospital trusts, primary care trusts and social services to improve community equipment services, prosthetics departments and wheelchair services has increased capacity in all areas; 
§ Jacqui Smith
The government welcomes the Audit Commission's reportFully Equipped 2002: Assisting Independence. Since the Audit Commission's original Fully Equipped report in 2000, we have set up a programme to improve disability services. The programme includes NHS Plan targets for integrating community equipment services and for increasing the numbers of equipment users by 50 per cent., both by 2004. The latter target has recently been extended to cover a further 250,000 people by 2006. The follow-up report Fully Equipped 2002 indicates that at this half way stage progress has clearly been made in areas such as community equipment services, hearing aid services and neonatal hearing screening. However, it highlights other areas where further work is needed and where we are now taking action such as wheelchairs, prosthetics and orthotics.
Waiting times data, Mid-Essex Hospital Services National Health Service Trust, Patients waiting for elective admission Month Total waiting Patients waiting for admission by month waiting 0–2 3–5 6–8 9–11 12–14 15 plus Mar-02 9,732 4,427 2,625 1,526 834 320 0 Apr-02 9,874 4,462 2,616 1,662 865 269 0 May-02 9,986 4,352 2,607 1,880 915 232 0 Jun-02 9,838 3,946 2,884 1,690 1,061 257 0 Jul-02 9,928 4,096 2,923 1,590 1,103 216 0 Aug-02 9,804 4,108 2,763 1,569 1,156 208 0
Department of Health form KH07 and Monthly Monitoring
Waiting time for first outpatient appointment, patients still waiting to be seen Quarter 13 to 26 weeks 26 plus weeks Total over 13 weeks Mar-02 794 0 794 Jun-02 1,241 0 1,241
Department of Health form QM08124W
Funding is given to the National Health Service with which to commission community equipment services, prosthetics, orthotics, hearing aid and wheelchair services. We have made available to the NHS an additional £105 million to improve community equipment services alone in the previous, current and next financial years. It is for local commissioners of services to determine how best to meet national priorities for improving health, tackling inequalities and modernising services and the extra investment in health and social care will help them do that.
In addition to the current tranche of additional NHS funding for community equipment services, local councils have also received an additional amount in the personal social services settlement to improve their community equipment services. Furthermore, on 23 July 2002, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a statement to the House on older people and the reduction of delayed discharges from hospital. In it he indicated that community equipment has an important role to play in facilitating discharges and that there will be additional ring fenced funding for community equipment and minor adaptations for social services in the years 2003–04 to 2005–06. In the same statement, my right hon. Friend announced both the intention to remove the power of councils to charge for the loan of community equipment (subject to legislation) and new targets to speed up the time it takes to deliver equipment and to make minor adaptations. All these measures will directly benefit people who need such items.