Lord Hunt believes rehabilitation shouldn't be the next casualty of too much bureaucracy

This month I celebrate 30 years in parliament: 21 as an MP and nine in the Lords. I am very proud of some of the things I have achieved - especially in the field of urban regeneration in Wales (where would the new Doctor Who be without it?) - but, hand on heart, I must confess I have not always been successful.

Sometimes I pursued a cause dear to my heart with all the resources at my disposal and, to put it bluntly, I got absolutely nowhere. The odd thing is, when my best efforts did run into the sand, most of the people with whom I was working were usually rather supportive of what I was trying to achieve. We were foiled, however, by the system itself.

One of my great remaining ambitions is to promote earlier, more effective rehabilitation. I don't need research projects or statistical evidence to convince me: if someone has an accident, or falls ill, or has a stroke, the sooner they are being treated by a well-qualified professional, the better.

Codes, conferences and committees all serve a purpose, but of themselves they never made anyone fit for life or fit for work. Rehabilitation does.

Progress has been made, but through my work at Beachcroft, the Case Management Society (CMSUK) and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on occupational safety and health, I constantly find myself confrontedby the same old problems: the entrenched, confrontational nature of the litigation process; the natural (if generally misplaced) fear on the part of defendants and insurers that an early offer of treatment may be thrown back in their faces during the litigation process; and the under-developed and patchy nature of provision, within both the public and private sectors.

Within government, rehabilitation still falls between too many stools. Responsibility is partly vested in one of the most impressive ministers I have known in many a long year, my near-namesake Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, within the Department of Work and Pensions. Yet the Department of Health too inevitably has a role, while the Department of Constitutional Affairs seemingly arrogates strategic control to itself.

This is an obvious recipe for delay or gridlock and all this activity takes place under the long, dark shadow of Her Majesty's Treasury. It's a Whitehall jungle and everyone's hands are tied to some degree. So what is to be done?

First, the inter-departmental 'work-stream' on rehabilitation needs real teeth and a sense of impetus and urgency. Even from the outside, I feel I have an opportunity - and a responsibility - to help with that.

Second, we need to be far clearer about what we mean by rehabilitation: it applies to people with mental or psychological problems, as well as physical ones; it applies to people covered by insurance (first, second or third party) as well as to those who are not; and it applies to those who fall ill by chance, as well as to those who suffer injury as a consequence of some outside intervention or negligence.

Third, we need to encourage politicians of all parties to stop treating rehabilitation as a Cinderella service. If it makes the difference between getting your life - or your job - back after an accident or illness, it's anything but.

When we say rehabilitation should be a priority, let's really mean what we say. And let's put pressure on everyone - lawyers, insurers, employers, the NHS, ministers and their officials - to unlock and unblock the system. If we are successful, some reputations too might enjoy a bit of much-needed rehabilitation. IT

' Lord Hunt is chairman of the financial services division of Beachcroft