The Act is complicated. It is a big Act and it landed with a thump when John Healey dropped it on the Opposition Benches. I think he did so intentionally; and it was very theatrical and effective. It is true that there is more money there, and it is clear that the Government pledged at the last election to maintain the funding of the health service and have done so. We also have in place the Nicholson challenge, a phrase coined by my right hon. Friend Mr Dorrell—formerly the Member for Loughborough—when he was Chair of the Health Committee, and we now face even greater challenges.
Let me set out to the hon. Member for Eltham what he could include in his Bill if it goes forward. He could examine the next stage of bringing together health and social care. On Tuesday, the Health Committee heard from Dame Kate Barker, the chair of the Commission on the Future of Health and Social Care in England. We were examining the transitional costs of bringing health and social care together, and looking ahead at the savings that can be made. The hon. Gentleman might apply his mind to the complications arising from the different streams of funding represented in health and social care, whereby health is funded by general taxation and some private support, which I have already discussed, whereas social care is the subject of means tests and other constraints. We are therefore talking about completely different funding stream. I do not know how the Health Committee will report this, but I was struck by Dame Kate Barker’s determination that there should be one person running health and social care. That is essential if we are going to bring those two things together.
The other point the hon. Gentleman should take on board as we look at the Bill is the high profile that the Secretary of State and his predecessor, my right hon. Friend Mr Lansley, have given to patient choice. The Government have said time and again that patient choice is at the heart of the health service, and we have already seen the benefits. The personal budgets now available for people who are seriously ill have had three benefits. First, they enable the patient to choose whatever treatment they want, be it tai chi, yoga or piano therapy—I believe that there have even been cases where tickets to a football match have been given. This is not something regulated by double-blind placebo controlled trials, as some of the other access arrangements for health care are. Secondly, the personal budgets enable the carers to go out into the world and get jobs, so freeing them up. Thirdly, when the personal budget money is given, it is spent responsibly by the patients. We have a whole new paradigm of health through personal budgets, and that should be examined through this Bill.
I have always felt that the 2012 Act and the reforms that were made produced something that put in place two legs on the stool, not three. The third leg comprises the vast and diverse multiplicity of support services that are not used in great depth in the health service now. Using them would considerably reduce costs and increase choice. The choice of these other support services will inevitably come to the fore as patients demand what they want, and we really have to bring this into the health service.
I have had many conversations about these things with the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend Dr Poulter—the Minister on the Front-Bench today. He has entrusted me with being vice-chair of the herbal working group, which is trying to sort out herbal medicine regulation. When we examine the support services that are not now part of mainstream health care, we see that we have a fundamental problem relating to the insistence that we rely on evidence-based medicine. I do not know where that phrase came from—it has not been around for a long time. Various bodies protect the public, and all new drugs are carefully scrutinised, by the pharmacists and the Herbal Medicines Advisory Committee, which has put together a list of what are, in effect, poisons and bans the use of some herbs. The public are protected in that way, but it is very difficult to use normal measurements to assess the effectiveness of, for example, acupuncture, which the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has approved for treating lower back pain. A lot of evidence shows that acupuncture can reduce the effects of lower back pain and save the NHS a lot of cost. With homeopathic medicine, which I have long supported and advocated, it is impossible to run trials on every dilution: some are so dilute that they do not show up.