11 Lord Harries of Pentregarth debates involving the Department of Health and Social Care

Tue 7th Dec 2021
Health and Care Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading & 2nd reading
Tue 29th Jun 2021
Wed 28th Oct 2020
Tue 8th Sep 2020
Tue 9th Jun 2020

Cancer Research UK Report

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Tuesday 5th December 2023

(6 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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No, I do not believe that is why people are being referred; it is to give them peace of mind. People know their own bodies and, if they are concerned about having cancer, they know that we want to put their minds at risk. I am familiar with that statistic. I had heard that 95% of people who go to these referrals, thankfully, do not end up with cancer but, boy, do they have peace of mind since we are able to give them that assurance.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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I declare an interest, as I have a son who is an oncologist. As the Minister knows, one of the most serious forms of cancer—and growing at this time—is melanoma. The melanoma charities are campaigning to reduce the VAT on sun cream in order to reduce the incidence of this terrible cancer. Have the Government come to a view on this reduction of VAT?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I do not think that the Government have come to a view but I understand the point. I will take that back to the department and the Treasury.

Care Homes: Energy Costs

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Thursday 8th September 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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Asked by
Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the likely impact of increased energy costs on care homes; and what extra support they intend to provide in response.

Lord Kamall Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care (Lord Kamall) (Con)
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The Government are committed to working with local authorities to help manage the pressures of inflation, for various reasons, on adult social care. We acknowledge the impact that challenges such as energy price rises will have on residential care providers and right across the system. As noble Lords will be aware, the Prime Minister has stated that a package of support for energy costs is her priority. Sadly, in terms of timing, we expect announcements shortly and will see how that feeds into the social care sector.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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I thank the Minister for his reply. As he well knows, care homes are already under great financial pressure. In the six years up to 2020, more than 1,600 had to close—many of them rated good or very good—and the rise in energy costs is already absolutely staggering, from something like £660 per bed per year to over £5,000 per bed per year. Of course, some help will be offered this afternoon, but is the Minister confident that the Government have really taken on board the sheer scale and seriousness of this situation for care homes?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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The noble and right reverend Lord makes a really important point about this issue and the impact on social care. What we are seeing right across government is the impact of this energy crisis: that is why the Prime Minister is making this announcement. We will then have to look into the details of how that affects the different sectors. We have heard from the social care sector, we have heard from care homes and we have heard from patients themselves about their concerns about the cost. I am afraid I cannot give more details at the moment. The Government are working very closely at the moment with local authorities and are in constant conversation about how we can help reduce the burden. Once we have more details of the package, we can look at that in more detail.

Health and Care Bill

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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My Lords, I too thank the noble and national “treasure”—the noble Lord, Lord Stevens—and welcome him to the House. I wish to focus on three areas: care homes, care workers and carers.

Last night, “Panorama” examined the financial structure behind two big care home chains. It discovered that the ultimate owner was a private equity company based in a tax haven, and that between that owner and the home there might be more than 100 other shell companies. Furthermore, the equity companies owning the chain changed frequently, each time taking more money and loading the debt on care homes.

The result was that at least 20% of the money that should have gone to support the resident was used to pay interest on the debt and dividends to shareholders, leading in some cases to poor care. Moreover, in a number of cases, the debt became unsustainable, so the home had to go into receivership, with the residents left in great uncertainty about their future. Is the Minister content that the present Bill will be able to ensure that the financial structure behind care homes in the future will not be of this type, able to load debt on to homes in a way that harms residents?

That having been said, the vast majority of care homes provide dedicated service. This was very much shown in the first phase of the pandemic when, for example, care workers actually lived in some homes to safeguard the residents from infection. However, there are now 170,000 vacancies in care homes and almost every home in the country has been hit by staff shortages, as underpaid and exhausted care workers leave. This raises the whole question of their pay, conditions and status.

There is a totally unacceptable turnover rate of care workers, as the noble Lady, Baroness Altmann, emphasised, while their average pay compares very unfavourably with that of a shop worker. Of course, this applies not just to those working in care homes but to the vast number now working in the community, trying to care for people in such a way as to keep them in their homes. We are still in a position where far too many hospital beds are being occupied by those who should be cared for in the community. That depends on care workers actually being available.

I believe in and greatly value the business sector of our society, not least innovators and genuine entrepreneurs. The whole country depends on their success but no less should we value the care sector and recognise this in the status that it is given, which should be reflected in how its workers are paid and treated. At a time when we will soon have 1 million people suffering from dementia and with the prediction that by 2050 that figure will be 2 million, we are no less dependent on the care workforce than we are on those working in business.

I welcome the Government’s recent statement that they are spending a least £500 million so that the social care workforce has the right training and qualifications and feels recognised and valued for its skills and commitment; they are also prioritising workforce well-being and support, including better access to occupational health services. The second question I ask the Minister is this: is he satisfied that this Bill, as set out at the moment, will ensure that this very excellent aim will be properly checked and monitored?

I now turn to carers—that is, those caring for a relative or friend on a voluntary basis. The support provided by people caring for a family member or friend who is older, disabled or has a long-term condition is vast. Prior to the pandemic it was estimated to be worth £132 billion per annum and during the pandemic, in one year, at about £193 billion. With an ageing population we are likely to continue to see a rise in the number of people providing care in this way. Carers’ health is often impacted by caring. Those who care for people in their house for more than 50 hours a week are twice as likely to be in bad health than non-carers. Carers UK has suggested some interesting amendments to this Bill to ensure that this element of the care sector is properly recognised and taken into account.

Finally, the word “care” is a precious one. The categories of “care worker” and “carer” are fundamental to our society. They need to be recognised accordingly, both in our attitudes and in the law, the latter so often being powerful in shaping those attitudes. I hope that as a House we will be considering amendments which ensure that that is indeed the case.

Covid-19 Update

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Tuesday 29th June 2021

(2 years, 12 months ago)

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Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, SIREN is one of the most thought-provoking and interesting of all the many studies that we have done. It is a sad fact that we do not understand many of the aspects of the body’s immune system, and that is why we are so committed to that study. It suggests that once you have had the virus, your body’s immune system is extremely strong. The proportion of people who catch it a second time round is incredibly small. That is good news for those who have caught it and for those who have had the vaccine, because if the immune system works well after catching the virus, it probably works well after the vaccine. However, we continue to publish from the SIREN study. On the health impacts of wearing face masks, I am not fully across that, but I will be glad to write to my noble friend with any details that I may have.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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The Government have been concerned for some time that even though someone is symptom-free and has had both vaccine jabs, there is still some risk that they might pass it on to others. But surely the risk must be minuscule. Have the Government ascertained how minscule the risk is compared with other much more major kinds of risk, and has there been a danger of the Government overcompensating here, particularly with respect to those in that position wanting to enter this country?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, what a perceptive question from the noble and right reverend Lord—he absolutely hits the nail on the head. The honest truth is that we do not have the precise figures on this but the indications are that he is right: the vaccine does not stop you being infected or transmitting it, but it reduces the chances of both those things dramatically. That is one of the reasons why we have kept our foreign travel arrangements under review. It is possible that the effect that he describes may mean that we can look very thoroughly at foreign travel—I think all noble Lords would welcome that.

Social Care

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Wednesday 28th October 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

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Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My noble friend is entirely right. One of the experiences of Covid has been the mobilisation of technology to help those in social care. That has ranged from very basic implementation, such as sending iPads to people in social care so that they can message and video their loved ones when in some form of lockdown, to the work done with broadband providers to ensure that those without it can have access to it, all the way through to the use of the most complex artificial intelligence and big data, to help with diagnosis in social care, and the management of care itself. That commitment to technology will continue and will form an important part of improving the commitment to social care as part of the new regime.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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The Royal Commission on long-term social care, chaired by the late lamented Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, reported in 1999. Only two years later, the Scottish Government adopted its main proposal of state support for personal and/or nursing care. How is it that, some 20 years later, successive Governments in the UK have failed to address the issue properly, in the way that the Scottish Government appear to be able to do?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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The noble and right reverend Lord is entirely right. There has been a large number of reports on social care, but they have not in themselves brought us closer to a new deal. That is why the Government’s commitment is not necessarily to launch new reviews but to engage in consensus building across the political parties. That consensus building has been lacking in the past and has continually proved to be the stumbling block to reform. The commitment of both the Government and other Benches to those talks is the essential building block of any major reform. I completely pay tribute to the Leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister for their commitment to those talks.

Covid-19: Rise of Positive Tests

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Wednesday 9th September 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

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Lord Faulkner of Worcester Portrait The Deputy Speaker (Lord Faulkner of Worcester) (Lab)
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Lord Desai? Lord Harries of Pentregarth.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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Moving on from the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, about care homes, and the Minister’s response, are the Government publishing the number of cases and deaths due to Covid in care homes? If not, why not?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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I advise the noble and right reverend Lord that those figures are published on the PHE website. I would be glad to send him an email with the link.

Suicide

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Tuesday 8th September 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

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Asked by
Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking in response to the reported rise in the number of people committing suicide.

Lord Bethell Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care (Lord Bethell) (Con)
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My Lords, one suicide is too many suicides. That is why we published a cross-government suicide prevention workplan in 2019, are investing £57 million in suicide prevention in the NHS, are rolling out suicide prevention plans across the country and are committed to working with charities such as the Samaritans and the Zero Suicide Alliance.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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I thank the Minister for his reply and what the Government are doing. Unfortunately, male suicides are the worst they have been for two decades. There is particular concern among men between the ages of 45 and 49, and suicide is the highest form of death for those under 50. It is a particular concern in areas of Yorkshire and Humber. In his latest book, Professor Michael Sandel argues that this is part of a wider malaise in society. In a highly competitive society such as ours, there are those left behind without any sense of value, dignity or self-esteem. Will the Minister encourage the suicide strategy advisory group to look at what Michael Sandel has said and its implications for government policy?

Childhood Obesity

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Wednesday 2nd September 2020

(3 years, 9 months ago)

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Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, the report from Professor Sally Davies has not been lost; the July obesity strategy leans extremely heavily on the insight and advice of Sally Davies, who continues to have a strong presence in the department and informs all our decisions, as does the public health team at PHE. Professor John Newton had an extremely high profile during the launch of the obesity strategy in July and continues to have an important voice at all levels of the department.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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In her 2019 report, the Chief Medical Officer pointed out that, when we leave the European Union, it will be open to the Government to alter VAT rates. She recommended that healthy foods should remain without VAT, as they are at the moment, but that there should be a tiered approach to unhealthy foods and drinks as far as VAT is concerned. What is the Government’s response to this recommendation?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, the Government are not planning a review of VAT at present.

Independent Residential Care

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Tuesday 7th July 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

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Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell [V]
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My noble friend asks the question extremely well. The Lords Economic Affairs Committee report is an extremely thoughtful and respected piece of work. Under normal circumstances we would certainly have had that debate and moved forward on this incredibly important issue, which was flagged both in the election and in the manifesto as a major government priority. However, I cannot hide from my noble friend that the Covid epidemic has disrupted progress, particularly on this delicate issue, which requires a huge amount of management time by senior healthcare officials, who are utterly consumed by Covid at the moment. Please be under no illusion that this is a major priority for the Government. Once the preparations for winter are in place, it will be at the top of the list.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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The Covid crisis has revealed the crucial role that care homes and care workers play in our national life. Does the Minister agree that it is high time to take a radical look at the role of care homes and of social care more generally, especially the status and the pay of care workers, who have revealed their worth so wonderfully over these last few months?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell [V]
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The noble and right reverend Lord is entirely right: the value and contribution of care home workers to society and to the communities that they work in go way beyond the actual monetary value of their salary. We completely respect and pay tribute to the contribution that they have made, particularly during this epidemic. We have sought during the epidemic to run recruitment campaigns to bring in new workers and to help plug any skills gaps, but this is the kind of issue that needs to be addressed in a long-term plan. We have already started work on that plan and look forward to bringing it to Parliament when the kind of cross-party support that is needed is in place.

Exercise Cygnus

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Tuesday 9th June 2020

(4 years ago)

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Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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The Secretary of State for Health, Mr Hancock, said on 7 May that he had consulted officials and had been assured that all the recommendations had been implemented. However, Martin Green, the chief executive of Care England, is reported as saying:

“It beggars belief. This is a report that made some really clear recommendations that haven’t been implemented.”


How does the Minister reconcile these two totally contradictory stories about whether or not the recommendations were implemented?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell [V]
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I assure the noble and right reverend Lord that operation Cygnus happened in 2016 and the recommendations were completed by spring 2018. However, it is possible that nothing could have prepared us for the ferocity of Covid. Operation Cygnus prepared us for a flu pandemic and not for something with the savagery of Covid-19.