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Local authorities will have a vital role to play in primary care groups - the government's reformation of GP fund-h...
Local authorities will have a vital role to play in primary care groups - the government's reformation of GP fund-holding - health minister Baroness Hayman told the lords yesterday.

Speaking in a debate on care of the mentally handicapped and those with learning difficulties, she said: 'With the introduction and establishment of primary care groups we have a unique opportunity for the key partners - they include social services and other branches of local authority services - to test new approaches to joint commissioning and more integrated provision'.

She was replying to Liberal Democrat lord Clement-Jones who spoke of 'problems and uncertainities' surrounding the commissioning of mental health services, particularly over the provisions and responsibilities of NHS regions, social services and primary care groups.

The minister also said the department of health's social services inspectorate found that services for people with learning difficulties were more responsive to individuals' needs and wishes than ever before.

'Many people with learning disabilities now enjoy a good quality of life in the community, where previously their only choice would have been in old long-stay hospitals. The quality of services does, however, vary both within and between areas and we have initiated a programme of work to ensure that the local statutory authorities continue to improve the services they provide for people with learning disabilities', she added.

Lord Morris of Manchester, the Labour peer who was Britain's first minister for the disabled, said some local authorities seemed unaware that the Chronically Sick and Disabled Person Act applied as much to people who are mentally ill or handicapped as they did to the physically disabled. One way to reduce pressure on hospital beds was to increase availability of adequate local services for chrinically sick and disabled people generally.

Baroness Hayman said government was funding an independent evaluation into the costs and outcomes of various forms of residential provision for people with learning disabilities. The department of health had also recently written to all health and local authorities reminding them they should continue to offer a range of residential provision and respect the rights of individuals to make informed choices, including placements in village communities, wherever the preferred choice was likely best to meet their needs within acceptable costs.

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