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Editor's blog Wednesday 16 February 2011: Health bits, PMQs today

From Hansard.

John Mann (Lassetlaw, Lab): One man who also served his country is my constituent Doug Hunt who, with his wife Gladys, lives in Westwood care home, which is currently being fattened for privatisation by increasing its fees by £400—not £400 a year, not £400 a month, but an increase of £400 a week. Would the Prime Minister like to answer Mr and Mrs Hunt, who are listening now, show some leadership and have these Tory cuts removed, or would he like to justify these increases to Mr and Mrs Hunt?

The Prime Minister: I will certainly look at the individual case that the hon. Gentleman raises, but far from cutting the money that is going into social care, we have increased by £2 billion the money going into adult social care because we know how important it is. It is not right to draw a false distinction between care homes run by local authorities and those run by the private sector. There is good practice and bad practice in both, but as we have seen in our hospitals in recent days, we need a change of culture in caring for our elderly to make sure they have the dignity that they deserve in old age.

Mark Lancaster (Milton Keynes North) (Con): My six-year-old constituent, Millie d’Cruz, is one of just 17 people in the United Kingdom to be diagnosed with the rare genetic disorder, MLD—metachromatic leukodystrophy. Unfortunately, the family must try to raise £200,000 to send her for treatment in Holland, even though the treatment may be available here in the UK. Can the Prime Minister look into the case and ensure that the family get the support that they deserve?

The Prime Minister: I am happy to do as my hon. Friend asks. A big change is taking place in medicine, where far more interest needs to be directed at genetic data and genetically inherited diseases, as this is how we will reduce disease and illness in the future. We are looking, for instance, at value-based pricing, whereby we try to share between companies developing new treatments and the taxpayer the cost of developing them, which could be a good way forward to make sure we get more treatments to more people more quickly.


Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): Is the Prime Minister’s upheaval of the health service resulting in longer or shorter waiting times?

The Prime Minister: We want to see waiting times come down; that is the whole point of the reforms. I think that anyone who has watched what has been happening over the past few days, where we have seen the standards of care that some elderly people—[ Interruption. ] Well, I think that the country is also interested in the standards of care that old people are getting in our hospitals. This idea that everything is right and rosy in the health service after what happened under the former Government opposite has just been shown to be completely untrue. Do we need to change the system and make it more related to what GPs and patients want? Yes, we absolutely do.


Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): The Prime Minister has drawn comparisons between care homes and hospitals when discussing changes to disability allowance, which are out for consultation until Friday. Yet for those who, for reasons of disability, spend not just their latter years but their whole lives in care homes, this comparison simply is not valid. Will he ask his Ministers to look again at this?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes a good point. This is exactly what we have been looking at. The whole intention of the change that was announced in the Budget and the spending review was to make sure that there was not an overlap in the way that we were judging people in care homes and people in hospitals. I think that when he sees what is proposed in the welfare Bill, he will see that it meets his concerns.


Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Given the difference in tone between “Drink Responsibly” and “Smoking Kills”, what action will the Prime Minister take in response to the heartfelt pleas of my constituent Rachel Jones, who wants to see much harder-hitting labels on alcoholic drinks following the tragic death of her boyfriend, Stuart Cable, the former Stereophonics drummer?

The Prime Minister: I think we should be looking at what action we can take through the tax system to deal with problem drinks, which we are looking at, and at tougher minimum pricing for alcohol. That is where we should be putting our attention, rather than necessarily looking at labelling. Many of the problems that we have, such as people—particularly young people—pre-loading before they go for a night out, are related to deeply discounted drinks in supermarkets and elsewhere. That is what we should deal with first.


Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): Mr Speaker, in 2008, your review into communication needs described speech therapy services as a “postcode lottery”, and, sadly, in 2010, a national survey of primary special educational needs co-ordinators showed that 57% had never heard of the Bercow review, and that services remain as inequitable now as they were then. In the national year of communication, and with “The King’s Speech” having done so much to raise awareness of this issue, will the Prime Minister clarify whether the Government are planning to implement the recommendations of your review, and how they are planning to do that when local authorities are facing such huge cuts?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Lady will shortly see the Green Paper on special educational needs, in which we are giving priority to this area because, as I know from my own experience, getting hold of a speech and language therapist is often extremely difficult. Of course, as in every other area, there will be constraints in terms of resources, but I think we can do better by having a less confrontational system and making sure that more resources actually get to the parents who need them and who want to do the right thing for their children.