We have set out new duties of quality and partnership in the Health Bill that was introduced in another place on 28 January 1999.
I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. I welcome the new initiative, which I believe to be the first on policing legal duties of partnership. Does it include social care?
Yes. If we are to improve services across the board—that is our primary objective—it is important that we find a way of getting the national health service and social services to work much more effectively together. We know from the result of the consultation on "Partnership in Action", which we published last year, that that is overwhelmingly what people want us to do. The Health Bill will, for the first time, remove the legal obstacles that currently prevent the NHS and social services from working effectively together.
Can my hon. Friend confirm that, through the Bill, for the first time, a legal duty will be placed on the quality of care, unlike before, when the only duty placed on trust chairs was to balance the books.
Yes, I can confirm that. Together, the changes that we have published in the Health Bill mark a decisive break from the NHS internal market and its preoccupation with competition, which was the inheritance of the previous Administration. We intend to put quality and partnership back at the heart of the NHS.
I think that that is a typical lawyer's perspective. [Interruption.] I will answer the hon. and learned Gentleman's question because it is a serious one. The whole purpose and thrust of our new clinical governance and duty-of-care arrangements will be to improve the quality of care. That, I hope, will make it less likely that people will litigate.
Will the Minister clarify the Government's policy with regard to primary care centres and, in addition, beacon of excellence awards—proposed targets for practices? In my constituency, the leading general practitioner practice was well lined up to develop such a centre and has qualified for a beacon of excellence award, but, for the past few months, the NHS executive has been completely silent on how the scheme is going forward. Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Health was quoted in a leading paper as saying that he supported such centres, pulling together a wider package of optician services, prescriptions and other health care services, but it seems that the Government policy in that area is somewhat in limbo at present.
With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, the Government's policy is not in limbo. The Health Bill, which I invite him to study, will clearly apply to primary care, but the quality duty that we intend to legislate on is not about individuals; it is about institutions. The principle of clinical governance needs to apply obviously and clearly in the area of primary care, as well as secondary care, and it will.
Given that elderly patients represent around 50 per cent. of those in hospital, and consistent with the Griffiths report, "Agenda for Action", and Lady Walner's report, "Residential care: options for choice", may I invite my hon. Friend to agree that it is extremely important, as it was when those documents were published about a decade ago, that organisations of elderly people, individual elderly people and elderly people locally should be consulted on services that are vital to their particular needs.
The answer to my right hon. Friend's question is yes. I also draw his attention specifically to two of our current initiatives. The first is the establishment of the new national service framework for older people, which will make a very positive contribution in defining new service models and in setting national standards across the national health service for the care of older people. Secondly, as I said earlier, we are currently embarked on a new regulatory framework and standard-setting exercise for treatment in registered nursing homes and care homes. Together, the two initiatives offer the prospect of developing policy in that very important sphere.