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New Clause 6 — Secretary of State’s response to a section 65 regulator’s report on an NHS foundation trust

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Treasury – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 11th March 2014.

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Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford 2:30 pm, 11th March 2014

I wish to speak to new clause 6, which stands in my name and those of hon. and right hon. Members from across the House.

The new clause would give the Secretary of State some discretion to amend details of the final recommendations from Monitor regarding the outcome of the administration of an NHS foundation trust. As the law stands—so I am advised—the Secretary of State must either accept or reject Monitor’s recommendations in full. If they are rejected, there is another lengthy period of reconsideration. The result is that even if the Secretary of State broadly welcomes Monitor’s recommendations but has concerns about some matters of detail, it appears that he has to reject everything.

I have tabled this new clause as a direct result of my experience representing a constituency that has undergone the very first trust special administration of a foundation trust. I hope it will also be the last—at least in its current format. It has been a hugely time-consuming and costly process, and I would not wish it on any other community, constituency or Member of this House. The new clause would slightly improve the process, but what I would much rather see is a total rethink of the way in which the basic tasks of a trust special administration are carried out, both for NHS trusts and for NHS foundations trusts.

In my view, the relevant legislation—introduced by the previous Government and continued under this one—is not fit for purpose, but that is a debate for another day. In the meantime, I simply urge Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority not to put any other trusts—whether they be NHS trusts or foundation trusts—into the current form of administration. I urge everybody to work together on developing a system that enables trusts that are too small, such as the Mid Staffordshire trust, to be dissolved without having to go into a rapid, short-term and wholesale redesign of services. It can be done and I am certainly willing to work with anyone who wishes to design a better system.

I will not go into the full details of the administration of the Mid Staffs NHS Foundation Trust—that is a subject for a full debate on another day—but I will simply point out that it was made a foundation trust in 2008 on the recommendation of Monitor after a lengthy process, and that it is now being dissolved in 2014 on the recommendation of Monitor after a lengthy process. In paragraph 4.269 of his inquiry report, Robert Francis says:

“There can be no doubt that the Trust should never have been authorised as an FT”,

which happened in 2008. There must be a better way of doing things.

My new clause 6 would give the Secretary of State the power to accept the broad thrust of Monitor’s recommendations in the unhappy event of any future administration, giving her or him discretion to alter their detail without having to reject them in their entirety. The new clause therefore offers the Secretary of State flexibility and discretion in what is too rigid a process. I think that any Secretary of State would welcome that. A constant theme of the Ministers whom I have heard in my short time in Parliament has been that such and such an amendment would introduce too much inflexibility into the law. I am therefore doing exactly what Ministers long for, which is to offer them such flexibility.

Of course, the law—the previous Government’s National Health Service Act 2006, as amended by this Government’s Health and Social Care Act 2012—may already provide flexibility, and my new clause may be unnecessary. While Mid Staffordshire was going through its administration, I was told that the Secretary of State had no flexibility under the law, but when he made his decision two weeks ago, he accepted Monitor’s recommendations with a welcome addition—an instruction to NHS England to review how consultant-led maternity services might still be provided at Stafford. I and my constituents have been arguing that case throughout the administration, and I sincerely hope that NHS England will see how vital it is for consultant-led services to continue in a networked form within the University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust, of which Stafford hospital will now be an important part.