Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:45 pm on 13th October 2003.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Cumberlege Baroness Cumberlege Conservative 8:45 pm, 13th October 2003

I rise to support the amendment. I think the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is absolutely right. One should see this in the context of what is happening in the National Health Service generally.

If we look at the very recent reforms that the NHS has carried out, Shifting the Balance of Power within the NHS is still in its infancy, with PCTs being responsible for 75 per cent of the budget. I work quite a lot with primary care trusts; I think they are very brave, but many of them are struggling.

We look to the 28 strategic health authorities that have also been introduced only very recently and are taking on duties from 100 health authorities. This month, the four health and social care directorates have been or are about to be abolished.

All these reforms have undoubtedly caused disruption to staff and patients. I do not argue that they have been detrimental, because some of them have probably been a very good improvement. But as these reforms have been introduced, some things have gone backwards. I cite specialised commissioning, which has been held up for a year now because the policy has not been well defined. Some really detrimental things have happened, for instance in neonatal intensive care, where mothers and babies are being transferred long distances because of a lack of cots.

Now we are embarking on more reforms; we know that financial flows will be changed, and that staff structure will be changed through Agenda for Change. We are introducing patient choice, whereby, by 2005, patients will be offered the choice of up to five hospitals by their GPs. Again, that is something I very much welcome. It is interesting that the London Health Link has been involved in a pilot scheme for this, and says that it is going well.

We know that reforms such as these ensure that people get distracted from the business in hand. It is very hard to argue against pilot schemes. In my experience, when we introduced nurse prescribing, we had eight pilot sites and saw how they went. After that, we had a whole trust area and saw how that went. As we were able to evaluate these schemes, it ensured that people had confidence in the new proposals.

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, has made an absolutely irrefutable case for having some pilot schemes to test out these reforms before they are introduced nationwide.