Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 10th November 2003.

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Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Health, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health) 7:00 pm, 10th November 2003

My Lords, as the noble Earl said, the amendment would remove the Secretary of State's specific power to require CHAI to undertake reviews and investigations in certain circumstances. It is important that the Secretary of State, who remains accountable to Parliament for the provision of healthcare, has the ability to be able to require CHAI to undertake a review or investigation where there is a crisis of confidence in public services. That power does not apply to cases that may pop into the headlines, such as a chapel being used as a mortuary. However, it could be applicable to a specific NHS body, such as Bristol Royal Infirmary or Alder Hay, where a specific type of service or problem area such as retention of organs needs to be investigated. Such matters are of great public concern and the ramifications for the NHS go wider than the specific place to which they relate.

In those circumstances—nine times out of 10 and 99 times out of 100—we would expect CHAI, which would want to identify and actively respond to such concerns, to fit that into its programmes. However, circumstances could arise where the Government have to intervene and reshape slightly the priorities of CHAI where there was a crisis of confidence of the kind that I have mentioned and it is important that the Minister has that reserve power. I hope that my answer clarifies matters for the noble Earl. The Government certainly have no intention to interfere with the work of CHAI every day. As I pointed out earlier, the number of staff who will be around in the Department of Health to interfere in anybody's workload will be substantially reduced in the review that we are carrying out.