Report (7th Day)
Health and Social Care Bill
Earl Howe (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Quality), Health; Conservative)
My Lords, this has been another excellent debate about a critical issue: how we ensure that the staff who deliver NHS care have the training, support and appropriate regulation to enable them to do so. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Emerton, for her advocacy of this cause, which is of course of central importance.
This amendment would require the Nursing and Midwifery Council to regulate healthcare support workers on a mandatory basis. I hope that I do not need to convince the noble Baroness that we have given this considerable thought. The Government's view, like that of the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, is that compulsory statutory regulation is not the only way to achieve high-quality care. It is no substitute for good leadership at every level and the proper management of services, which is perhaps the most relevant issue in the context of the examples of poor care cited by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, to whom I listened with great attention.
Regulation can respond to concerns about the practice of professionals when they arise, but the regulator cannot be in the room all the time. On the other hand, employers are often in a position to act early, when concerns first arise and before harm occurs.
Let us remember that there are existing tiers of regulation that protect service users, particularly the vetting and barring scheme, through which unsuitable workers can be barred from working with vulnerable adults and children. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, in particular, that that includes where regulated nurses are struck off. If there are concerns that they may pose a risk, they should be referred to the Independent Safeguarding Authority. The Care Quality Commission also enforces standards for providers of health and social care services.
There is no difference between the noble Baroness, Lady Emerton, and the Government on the central issue. We recognise the need to drive up standards for support workers and to facilitate employers appropriately to employ, delegate to and supervise health and social care support workers. To this end, we have commissioned Skills for Health and Skills for Care to work with professional stakeholders on the development of a code of conduct and minimum induction and training standards for healthcare support workers and adult social care workers in England. The noble Baroness has expressed her doubts about that decision, but I noticed with interest that, in its recent addendum to its response the House of Commons Health Select Committee, the NMC stated clearly that it supports the Government's announcement that Skills for Health and Skills for Care have been commissioned to do this work and to develop a delegation standard for nurses and midwives that will provide an effective framework for public protection.
We confidently expect Skills for Health and Skills for Care to engage with nursing professionals, including educationalists, in taking this forward. There are registered nurses on the proposed membership of the steering group for the work that we have commissioned from Skills for Health and Skills for Care, and I am happy to suggest in response to the noble Baroness that a university lecturer should also be included. More generally, we would expect a broad programme of engagement as part of the work to take this forward. We expect the standards to be agreed ahead of the establishment of voluntary registers for healthcare support workers and adult social care workers, which could be operational from 2013 onwards; so, to be clear, those workers meeting the standards of training and conduct would be able to be included on an assured voluntary register. We will ensure that the delivery of training for health and care assistants who are entitled to be included on a voluntary register is professionally led, and I can confirm that, following this debate, I will be writing to Skills for Health and Skills for Care to make this absolutely crystal clear.
The noble Baroness and my noble friend Lord Newton expressed doubts about whether there would be a system for tracking people when they moved. There was also a question from my noble friend about whether there could be more than one register. Current arrangements for statutory regulation do not enable the regulatory bodies to track the movements of individuals; they rely on the self-reporting of changes of job. A voluntary register would be no less able to do that, and indeed could remove people who failed to notify the regulatory bodies of changes. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, and my noble friend Lord Newton, that no decision has been made about whether there will be more than one register. As such, I hope I can provide reassurance first that having assured registers means that this is not an easy course of action, in the way that was suggested earlier, and secondly that the professional standards authority could take account of the existence of multiple registers in determining whether to accredit a further register.