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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 4:15 pm on 11th March 2014.

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Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Opposition Whip (Commons) 4:15 pm, 11th March 2014

I am sorry to be down in the detail of the new clause, but I think that it is very important, not least because many of us have received hundreds of e-mails about this. We need clarity on which commissioners are being given an effective power of veto by the new clause. Is it just the primary commissioner of services at a hospital, or does it go wider than that? To take the Lewisham example, it is not clear whether the power of veto would be given only to Lewisham CCG or also to the commissioners of services at Lewisham hospital, such as Greenwich or Bexley CCGs.

It is also not clear from new clause 16 whether there is a definite guarantee that full consultation would kick in if commissioners agreed to the recommendations of the TSA, because with reference to commissioners it includes the words

“if they are so minded”.

It is not clear what would happen if they were not so minded. Where is the redress for the public in that?

Another concern about new clause 16 is that if commissioners of services at a trust outside the failing trust disagree with the TSA’s proposals, potentially millions could have been spent bringing in the administrator and the management consultants and working up a whole series of proposals, but it could then be brought to a halt by a group of commissioners. I cannot help but question whether it would not be better either to apply the TSA regime to one individual trust or to go through a proper reconfiguration process, with all the safeguards that would include.

I am also intrigued as to why the right hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam tabled new clause 16 at this time. It is quite detailed, and given that he was a member of the Public Bill Committee, it might have been wise to introduce it in Committee and thrash out the detail there. I would like to add that he has always struck me as a man of principle. He has a deep understanding of how the NHS works and, I believe, a deep commitment to tackling the care crisis we face. However, tabling the new clause as some kind of alternative to voting against clause 119 seems to me to be tinkering at the edges. What we really need to do is vote to remove that clause from the Bill, because it poses a significant danger to hospitals across the country.

I am conscious that I have spoken for a long time, so I will say just a few words in conclusion. We know that the Conservatives stated in their manifesto that they would stop the forced closure of A and E departments and maternity wards. We know that in the coalition agreement both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives talked about stopping the centrally dictated closure of A and E departments and maternity wards. The truth is that neither the Lib Dems nor the Conservatives are stopping these closures; instead, they are legislating for them. They are paving the way for a wholesale programme of hospital closures and downgrades. We might stop them if we vote for new clause 16, but for me “might” is not good enough. In my view, amendment 30, which would delete clause 119, is our best hope for putting the Lewisham debacle behind us and providing the public with a fair and transparent means of making decisions about the public service that matters most to people—the NHS.