Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:30 am on 16th October 2003.

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Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health) 11:30 am, 16th October 2003

I hear what the noble Earl says about the IT strategy. I do not think that this is the place to have a long detailed debate about the Government's IT strategy. I shall try to deal with the amendment by relating why it is not compatible with the IT strategy.

I do not disagree with some of the thinking outlined by the noble Earl. It is worth bearing in mind that the regulator will have powers under Clause 6(3) to require that NHS foundation trusts comply with IT interoperability requirements to ensure that there is data integrity across the NHS.

I do not think that anyone in the Committee would disagree with the proposition—we have all learnt by mistakes made by successive governments regarding public procurement of IT—that there needs to be some common architecture for IT to operate successfully and for local systems to be able to transfer information from one part of the country to another. One of the uncomfortable facts of life for the NHS is that people move around and that records and information about them may need to move around. So a common architecture to ensure compatibility between local systems is an important aspect. Nothing in this legislation prevents the regulator ensuring that. There are many stand-alone systems that presumably are bespoke to a particular function in an office which do not come into that category.

PCTs may also include requirements on interoperability in their contracts with NHS foundation trusts. Let us stop and think about the issue. It is not in the interests of NHS foundation trusts to do other than ensure integrity and compatibility of NHS data flows and value for money in their own IT solutions. Why would they want to buy systems that are unable to relate to other parts of the NHS?

In the light of these considerations, we believe that the regulation-making powers proposed in the amendment are superfluous and would seem on face value to reduce NHS foundation trusts' independence from the Secretary of State, a matter about which the noble Earl and his colleagues have been so concerned. So the safeguards are there, without being oppressive where there are particular local systems that do not have linkages to other parts of the NHS.