Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:00 pm on 16th October 2003.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Conservative 12:00 pm, 16th October 2003

Once again, in Clause 19 we see the phenomenon of the independent regulator being elbowed aside by the Secretary of State. Subsection 1(a) specifies that an authorisation,

"must require an NHS foundation trust to disclose such information as the Secretary of State specifies to the regulator".

Once again, why is it necessary for the Secretary of State to specify anything at all in this context? Why is not the regulator able to specify the information that he requires? Why does the Secretary of State also need to receive information? I fear that foundation trusts will find that they are supplying the same amount of information as they were before they became foundation trusts. This time, however, they will be sending it in two directions at once. They may actually find that they are churning out even greater amounts of paper than before if the Secretary of State and the regulator do not make a concerted effort to avoid duplication of data collection. That does not conjure up a happy picture because, although data collection is a necessary fact of life in any public service, I thought that the aim was to reduce bureaucracy to foundation trusts not to perpetuate it at current levels.

Nor do I fully understand why it is necessary in Subsection (2) to empower the regulator to ask any other health service body to deliver to him any information that he may request. That provision is extremely sweeping. For a start, it seems to ignore common-law rights of patient confidentiality. I hope that the Minister can reassure me on that particular issue. However, the provision also suggests that the regulator will be able to demand information from PCTs and non-foundation acute trusts that they may already be sending to the Secretary of State. Again, that is a recipe for duplication. To the extent that the information requested by the regulator is not information to which the Secretary of State has access, one has to ask why such an additional burden needs to be imposed on health service bodies. I beg to move.