Tag Archives: Hazel Blears

Could the "social impact bond" help to improve services in dementia care?

It’s impossible to ignore the occasional spate of reports of ‘care home scandals’, including Winterbourne View and Orchid View.

Whilst a direction of travel might be to advance people living ‘successfully’ as long as possible independently, there’ll be some people for whom a care home might be appropriate. There are particular aims of policy designed to support living well with dementia, such as combating loneliness and providing meaningful leisure activities, which can possibly be achieved through high quality care homes.

It’s pretty often that you hear of social care being “on its knees”, due to drastic chronic underfunding. A concern about attracting investment from the private sector is that this will help to accelerate the lack of financial resource allocation from the State. And yet this is the opposite to the argument of resources ‘leeching’ out of the public sector into the private sector.

In terms of the ‘business model’, there are concerns that, to maximise shareholder dividend, staff will not be incentivised to ‘care well’, if they are barely meeting the requirements of the national minimum wage. Whilst the employer emphasises ‘flexibility’ of zero hours contracts, for many such contracts are symbolic of a lack of commitment for sustained employment by the employer.

So the idea of bonds being used to prop up dementia care, currently one of the three big arms of the Prime Minister’s Dementia Challenge, has gained some momentum, for example here. Bonds are effectively “IOUs“, and concerns remain for them as in the private finance initiative – such as who actually benefits, the prolonged threat of penalty for not being able to meet your loan repayments, the issue of who decides the outcomes by which performance will be assessed, and who actually manages or controls the enterprise.

Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) are depicted as “a way of enabling innovation, creating flexible contracts around social outcomes and providing linked investment“. But for some, they are a vehicle for enabling ‘privatisation by stealth’.

The current Labour opposition officially is trying to distance itself from any mechanisms promoting the privatisation of the NHS, and yet it is known Chris Ham and Norman Lamb wish to publish a report imminently on the possible use of SIBs in policy under the auspices of the King’s Fund.

This is the title slide of Hazel Blears’ presentation for the Alzheimer’s Show on Friday.


And here is a section of her talk.

[apologies for the sound quality]

Hazel has a strong personal attachment to campaigning on dementia, and is particularly interested and influential in the direction of travel, not least in her rôle as Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on dementia, a cross party group made up of MPs and Peers with an interest in dementia.

Andy Burnham MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Health, has made it clear that it is his firm and settled intention to repeal the Health and Social Care Act (2012). The current Prime Minister’s Dementia Challenge is to come to an end officially in March 2015.

Dementia UK set up some time ago its innovative ‘Admiral Nurses’ scheme, to provide specialist nurses who could help people with dementia and family carers to improve the quality of life of people with dementia and family carers.

Burnham has also let it be known that he intends to subsume social care within the NHS under the construct of ‘whole person care’. Whichever various formulations of ‘whole person care’ you look at, you tend to find a ‘care coordinator’ somewhere. The exact job description of the care coordinator, nor indeed which specialisms might be best suited to accomplish this rôle, is somewhat unclear presently.

But it is all too common to hear of people being diagnosed with dementia being ‘lost in the system’, sometimes for years without follow up.

A “care coordinator” might help to boost access to the following services: emotional support, enable short breaks for people with dementia and anyone in a caring role, promote nutritious meals, ensure medications are given on time, ensure the correct medications have been subscribed (for example avoiding antipsychotic medications in individuals who might be unsuited to these), advice about suitable housing (including downsizing), ensure all physical commodities are properly medically managed; and so the list goes on.

I feel it’s pretty likely there’ll be a ‘first mover advantage‘ effect for any entity which takes up this coordination rôle in dementia care. But the tension between this and the Opposition’s policy is palpable: one cannot talk of this entity being ‘the first to enter the market’, as many wish (and expect) Labour to abolish the internal market in health care.

Such a coordinating entity could well be a recipient of a SIB – but is this like the PFI of social care? PFI by and large has an incredibly negative press amongst members of the general public.

But on the other hand, is it vindictive to prevent a social enterprise from pitching from such a service? If that entity has the technical ‘know how’ to run operations nationally competently and at a reasonable price, would that be preferable to the State running such services when projects such as NHS IT and universal credit have not gone terribly well?

In our jurisdiction, private companies can hide easily being a corporate veil, and are for example currently not readily accountable through freedom of information legislation. This is despite numerous requests to Jeremy Hunt in parliament about parity in disclosure requirements from both private and public providers.

And the track record of some outsourcing companies in the private sector, it is said, has been terrible.

Jeremy Hunt and Norman Lamb are currently in control of NHS and care policy, but there might be a fundamental change in direction from the next Government.

Or there might not be.

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#G8summit: Hazel Blears MP (@HazelBlearsMP) praises patients and carers, and calls for research into living well with dementia

On Thursday 28 November 2013, MPs debated the G8 summit on dementia. The debate was chosen by the Backbench Business Committee following a representation from Tracey Crouch. The application for debate was also sponsored by Hazel Blears and Paul Burstow.

This discussion, by parliamentarians, was in fact a very fair and balanced consideration of the practical issues facing the contemporary scene of dementia.

A lot has hopefully moved on from the attitude that, “Dot has gone a bit dotty”.

Diagnosis of the dementias is only part of the story.

The subsequent ‘treatment’ and ‘cure’ for dementia have been actively debated, but this parliamentary debate acknowledged that we have come on ‘leaps and bounds’ for enabling individuals with dementia potentially to live positively with dementia.

There’s clearly a complex parapluie of factors at play here. Does a current lack of cure for dementia lead to more stigma, or does stigma contribute to a current lack of cure for dementia?

Beyond the Prime Minister’s Dementia Challenge, there will need to be a long-term dementia strategy to expire next year, it is argued.

The UK is leading the discussion of dementia for the G8, but embarrassingly does not have a strategy yet for 2025 compared to some of its international colleagues.

There has been an increase in investment in dementia research, but this has come from a very low base, representing less than 1% of the annual science budget. It is hoped that this budget will increase, including funding for prevention as well as quality-of-life and wellbeing.

A great thing about this debate was its acknowledgement that not all dementia is Alzheimer’s disease; this is crucial for us to consider how best to allocate monies for research into other types of dementia too, such as the frontotemporal dementias.

brain areas

Another brilliant aspect was an appreciation that there needs to be support for carers, for avoidance of ‘crises’ – including support for the ‘Dementia Action Alliance’ – in the run-up to the #G8 dementia and beyond.

You can watch this excellent debate here.

Hazel Blears (@HazelBlearsMP) is the Labour MP for Salford. Her submission to the #G8 debate, as provided in Hansard, is as follows. Hazel is well known to be a ‘champion’ for dementia.

Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), my colleague on the all-party group. It is also a great pleasure to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is my first opportunity to contribute to a debate under your chairmanship, and I would like to congratulate you on your election.

While I am handing out congratulations, I would like to congratulate the Prime Minister, too, on the personal commitment he has shown on dementia. [Interruption.] Credit where it is due. Those who have the presidency of the G8 have an opportunity to name a subject around which they would like to mobilise the international community. In playing his card at the G8, the Prime Minister has chosen dementia. I commend him for taking that action. I believe that international collaboration will be the way to achieve the next big leap forward, particularly on the research agenda. I support what the Prime Minister said at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday—that this issue is not a matter only for world leaders, important though they are; it is a matter for every single person in the community, whether they be a world leader, a health Minister or an ordinary citizen. Everybody has a role to play.

I shall start with the people who have dementia, along with their families and their carers. When we promote policy, do collaboration or talk about international research, we must constantly remind ourselves that the people with the disease and their carers and families are usually the most expert people in the system. Therefore, the services that we provide, the quality of care and the innovations we develop have to be shaped and guided by those people. We must empower them to make their voices heard in this debate. When we bring together our creativity, our imagination and the huge brain power in the research community, we must always bring to this issue, too, our own humanity. We must remember that people with dementia are valuable and loved human beings. If we can keep that at the forefront of our minds, we will make progress and be doing absolutely the right thing.

During Question Time yesterday I mentioned a lady called Joy Watson. I met her a little while ago. She is only 55, but she has early-onset dementia. Her family was devastated. When she went into shops, she might be a little confused over her change or what she needed to order, and the shops—and sometimes the customers—would be irritated with her, tutting and asking her to hurry up. She took to wearing a badge, which she designed herself, saying “I have got Alzheimer’s; please be patient with me”. She should not need to do that. Nowadays there is a scheme—I think it is called the purple angel scheme, and Joy is promoting it—so that people can wear a purple angel on their T-shirts as a means of raising awareness in every single part of our community.

In Salford, we have worked on this agenda for a number of years. We have just formed our dementia action alliance, with 30 organisations now committed to action plans to make us, I hope, the first dementia-friendly community in Greater Manchester. As well as health, education and housing bodies, we have the Lowry arts centre and our shopping centres included in the scheme. I think we have the first private-hire taxi firm in the country to be involved in this, Mainline Sevens taxis. It has trained 400 drivers and has an account system so that people with dementia do not have to fiddle with their money when they get in a taxi. All those groups are now dementia aware. That shows the really practical things that can be done.On the research side, I am delighted to say that tomorrow, Salford university will launch the Salford Institute for Dementia, bringing together the faculty of health and social care with departments dealing with the built environment, computers, IT, arts and media—showing the multidisciplinary approach that will apply. That group will draw together and disseminate research on living well with dementia. I think this is a fabulous academic development.

Hazel Blears therefore congratulated the Prime Minister for choosing dementia as a topic he wished to talk about.

It is noteworthy that patients themselves and their carers are the most expert in these complex conditions, and their voices must be heard.

Few will disagree with this.

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