17:23 Tuesday 17th September 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[C]HRIS MANN: Liberal Democrats at their annual conference have voted for tougher powers to crack down on poor quality care homes. Delegates in Glasgow say the watchdog The Care Quality Commission should be cracking down on care home owners if standards aren’t good enough. They’re also demanding better training and pay for care workers who visit people at home, and more time to do their jobs. The Care Minister is Norman Lamb, the MP for North Norfolk, and he joined me earlier.
NORMAN LAMB: We’re acutely aware that there are too many examples of care falling down. I had an elderly constituent recently, a lady who talked to me about different care workers turning up every day, male care workers who she’s never seen before coming to shower her. Now this is an assault on your dignity. That’s not acceptable to me. She also talked about care workers turning up with just one day of training, people giving her the wrong medication, and on one evening no-one turning up at all, so she was left stranded in her chair through the night. Now we have to confront these unacceptable standards of care.
CHRIS MANN: Who’s to blame for this? And how do you fix it?
NORMAN LAMB: Well one of the things we’re doing is to introduce really effective corporate accountability, so that if a company is responsible for really unacceptable standards of care, then there should be consequences to that. There should be the ability to prosecute. Up until now the regulatory regime hasn’t allowed that. We’re changing it, so that companies cn be prosecuted when things go badly wrong. And I think that sort of accountability is essential.
CHRIS MANN: But isn’t the problem the fact that you’ve brought the private sector into public health. The NHS was once run by effectively the Government. Now you’ve got these private companies, and they don’t answer to the patients. They answer to their shareholders.
NORMAN LAMB: Well, first of all private companies in care, providing care at home and in care homes, have been around for a very long time. And so it’s nothing new at all under this Government. But that’s the point I make, that if a company ..
CHRIS MANN: But it’s been a progression over the years, hasn’t it, that now more and more of the NHS, whether it’s care or elsewhere, is run by private companies.
NORMAN LAMB: Yes. It’s certainly a mixed economy. The NHS is very predominantly still in the public sector. But my point is that unacceptable standards of care are unacceptable wherever they are. If it’s Mid-Staffordshire Hospital, an NHS hospital, they were responsible for prematurely killing hundreds of people. Morecambe Bay, where babies lost their lives. This is completely unacceptable in the public sector, just as much as negligent or abusive standards of care in the private sector.
CHRIS MANN: And yet there’s an experiment about to take place here in Cambridgeshire, where adult care as you will know is being auctioned off to the highest bidder.
NORMAN LAMB: Well what I understand is happening in Cambridgeshire, and I’m not an expert on your area, but what I understand is that they are looking to integrate care. And this is something that I think is incredibly important. At the moment we have a horribly fragmented system, where particularly frail elderly people can fall through the cracks, and they’re pushed from pillar to post between different organisations. We’ve managed over the years to institutionally separate mental health from physical health. This makes no sense from the point of view of the patient. And my ambition is to bring these disparate services back together again, so that we shape care around the needs of the patient, not the institution. And I think that if in Cambridgeshire we can achieve that, we can improve care.
CHRIS MANN: Well Norman, you may not know, but the County Council’s budget now, over 50% of it, the biggest single thing, is adult social care. And at a time when you’re all putting the squeeze on local councils, they still have those statutory, obligatory things, to look after older people. But it’s getting tighter and tighter. It seems that money is the most important thing in your mind.
NORMAN LAMB: No. For me I have a mission. As a Liberal Democrat Minister, I have an absolute mission to achieve better care. That’s what I’m in this job to do. I think you highlight an incredibly important point though, that we live in an aging society. The number of people who will live to the age of over eighty five will double between now and 2030. So if we are to ensure we have really good quality services for people when they need help, we have to find ways of making the money go further, and making the use of resources more efficient than sometimes happens at the moment. And I think by addressing this fragmentation of care, and bringing services together, to ensure that we prevent a deterioration in health, and prevent people ending up in hospital unnecessarily, we can improve care and achieve it at a lower cost.
CHRIS MANN: Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk and of course Minister for Care and Support. Thank you for joining us.
NORMAN LAMB: Thank you very much.