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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 4:30 pm on 11th March 2014.

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Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Labour, Easington 4:30 pm, 11th March 2014

I want to make a few points in support of amendment 30, which would delete clause 119 on the basis that the TSA was never designed to deal with reconfigurations across an entire region. Despite the assurances given by Mr Dorrell and Government Front Benchers, the potential remains for this mechanism to be used as a back-door route to making changes and closures at hospitals.

I also declare my support for new clause 16. However, although it would ameliorate the worst parts of clause 119 by ensuring that local commissioners in non-failing areas had a veto over any decisions affecting their trust, it is not, as colleagues have said, a perfect solution.

Clause 19—or, as 38 Degrees and other campaigning groups refer to it, the hospital closure clause—should not stand part of the Bill. I had the honour to serve on the Bill Committee for what is now the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and I attended 39 out of 40 sittings. I missed one because I attended a Health Committee sitting at which the then Health Secretary was giving evidence about NHS England, which was previously called the NHS Commissioning Board, and I did not want to miss that.

I sat through that Bill Committee and listened to the Government’s reasons for their reorganisation. We were told that it would deliver a decentralised service and put power in the hands of clinicians. To be frank, clause 119 makes a mockery of that claim. Far from delivering a decentralised service that puts power in the hands of clinicians, the Secretary of State seems to be seeking to take power away from GPs and local communities in order to further reconfigure the NHS for purely financial reasons.

To suggest that the trust special administrator regime is a natural extension of the existing legislation is a gross distortion. The TSA process was never intended to be used as a back-door way to make unpopular reconfigurations. Potentially, clause 119 could take control of every NHS trust and foundation trust away from the public, leaving no hospital bed in the country safe. It should not stand part of the Bill.

If the Bill is enacted, clause 119 will mean that the NHS in England will face further wholesale, top-down reorganisations. The clause could be used as a method to achieve that. I do not think that anyone in this House wishes that to happen. I am sure that, in their hearts, some Government Members do not want that, and certainly no one in the country voted for it. Our problem is that there would be virtually no accountability to local people.

The successful legal challenge brought by the London borough of Lewisham and the Save Lewisham Hospital umbrella campaign—I pay tribute to their efforts, which have brought about this situation—showed conclusively that the Secretary of State did not have the power to axe Lewisham’s accident and emergency and maternity wards as a solution to problems in the neighbouring South London Healthcare NHS Trust.

Clause 119 is designed to allow the Secretary of State to do what he failed to do in Lewisham—to close down thriving and financially sustainable hospitals on a whim, without full and proper consultation. To suggest, as was said in Committee, that a tokenistic meeting with a local authority overview and scrutiny committee would assuage public concerns does not hold water. We must rebuild trust: we need full and proper consultation with patients and the public, and we need agreements with clinical commissioning groups. I am somewhat surprised at the willingness of Government Members, who have championed the cause of GP-led commissioning, to subvert the role of CCGs in that respect.