Committee (10th Day)
Health and Social Care Bill
Lord Warner (Labour)
My Lords, I support the thrust of most of the amendments in this group and have added my name to Amendments 226, 259 and 339. As others have said, it is essential to have in the Bill a clear commitment from the Government, and indeed from Parliament, that three things are very clear when it comes to directors of public health. First, we have to make sure that they should be registered public health specialists, with appropriate qualifications and expertise. That seems to me a given if these people are to have standing in the local communities and, perhaps, even in a wider area. Secondly, the director should be accountable to the local authority's head of paid service and be able to report directly to the local authority itself, particularly when there is an area of great concern in that local community. One does not want people intervening between the director and local authorities' main committees when a serious incident is taking place locally.
Thirdly, for the reasons that everybody else has mentioned, we have to ensure that a director of public health cannot simply be fired on a whim because they are doing something which is uncomfortable or unpopular, or has brassed off a local interest of one kind or another. That is particularly critical when we see the difference of approach that the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, put very well: between the evidence-based approach of a director of public health and the commitments that local authority members, quite reasonably, have to seek re-election from time to time. That is how the system works, but a different approach is likely to run through some local areas when something is uncomfortable for the local authority but is backed up by the evidence that the director of public health can put in the public arena.
Directors of public health need to be seen to be capable of doing the job and to be able to deliver bad news-as well they may have to. They should be able to expect to be supported and protected locally when they have to deliver uncomfortable news. Amendment 226 is part of that package of armour that we need to wrap around directors of public health. There may be better ways to do that in these amendments than in Amendment 226, but its purpose certainly ought to be in the Bill.
Amendment 259 is an important part of the protective armour that I have mentioned for directors of public health, in that it aims to ensure that they simply do not lose ground financially over time in their pay and conditions of service with NHS medical equivalents. I am not a supporter of creating situations where there are bidding wars between local authorities and the NHS. We have seen that with occupational therapists over the years, where one side decides that it can secure some advantage by upping the ante a bit for a specialist group when there is a degree of local competition for a sometimes scarce resource, so I am not in favour of doing that.
However, my experience-and I have worked six years in local government-is that where there are these bidding wars, usually the NHS specialist is further up the greasy pole in terms of pay and conditions of service, and the specialist at the local level is trying to catch up with what has happened. That is why Amendment 259 is important, in that it ensures that there is a catching-up process. Much more importantly, it tries to ensure that it is not necessary to have a catching-up process, because there is an agreed alignment between the pay of those specialists who are employed by the NHS and those who are employed by local authorities.
In speaking to Amendment 339, to which I have put my name, I should declare an interest, in that my daughter is a non-medical public health specialist, although I hasten to add that I have in no way discussed this with her, so she should not be held responsible for the views I am about to express. It is vital that public health specialists are brought within the purview of the Health Professions Council and that there is a separate register for non-medical public health specialists which comes under the purview of that council.
Increasingly, the behavioural aspects of successful public health policies and their implementation are absolutely critical. This is not an area where we should be relying only on personnel with medical or dental qualifications. If we are to have successful public health policies, it is vital that we have people with the kind of background where they can communicate, understand, and do research on the emerging areas of the behavioural sciences. I hope, therefore, that we can have a register which has public standing and is supervised by the Health Professions Council.
Before I sit down I would like to start this session with a mild chastisement of the Minister. I said at Second Reading that I had a benchmark for the Minister's flexibility in accepting amendments to this Bill. However, he has been uncharacteristically inflexible in responding to many of the noble Lords' concerns in their amendments. Of course, he has always been very polite; but we have not seen much evidence of the Government being willing to take away some of these issues and come back with amendments at a later stage. I would say to him that this set of amendments gives him a good chance to turn over a new leaf. They do not affect the Government's policies in this Bill. However, they strengthen the ability of the Government to deliver those policies in the way that they have strengthened the arrangements around the appointment, the pay and the safeguarding of the independence of the directors of public health. I do hope, therefore, that we will see a different type of Earl Howe appearing in relation to these particular amendments.