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Health: Primary and Community Care — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:40 pm on 24th June 2010.

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Photo of Lord Crisp Lord Crisp Crossbench 3:40 pm, 24th June 2010

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Mawson on inviting us to reflect on primary care over the past 10 years and more. I know he is hopeful that his timing is such that the Government's policy is not yet so rigid that they cannot listen to new ideas and the practical lessons that he and others want to mention. I have to declare an interest. Most people know that I was chief executive of the NHS in England for six years. There is a lot that I could say, but I will concentrate on the same areas as my noble friend; namely, the integration of care, particularly thinking about social care, education and other boundaries around the whole person.

The other day, an American friend said to me, "We love you in England because you keep changing the way you develop primary care. You are a wonderful laboratory. You have tried out lots of different ways of doing it". I guess that that is true. But I guess that there is a reason for that, which is not just a wish to meddle. It is that, as other noble Lords have mentioned, a lot has changed in the 70 years since the 1940s, when we set up the primary care system we have now. The three big changes have been referred to by others. The diseases are different. Seeing patients is much more about dealing with non-communicable diseases. They are about elderly people with complex or multiple problems. The patients have changed. They are much more demanding, but their behaviour is much more important in so many ways in terms of the management of care for diabetes or whatever. In addition, technology has changed. All those changes mean that our old model has led to shift. As we have noted, there have been many ways in which people have tried to make that shift. It is really important that we learn the lessons from those attempts to change and to make improvements.

Before this debate, the Royal College of Physicians wrote to me and, I suspect, to others saying that it was really important that we did not lose sight of the fact that primary care, secondary care and tertiary care need to join up. We need to have that all within the frame. It is interesting to reflect that the separation between primary care and secondary care is largely in legislation that is about 70 years old. It is not writ that a GP shall be this and a consultant shall be that. It was an organisational change. The way in which parts of the medical profession relate can change and some organisations, as I think that the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, mentioned, employ or involve both. There is nothing rigid about this.

However, I want to talk about integration around the patient. Let me go back to the simple point that most patients today in richer countries are people whose needs often may be clinical, but alongside that there is a need for independence. I think that I have mentioned in this House before that my elderly father fell and broke an arm. Clinically, it was very easy to deal with, but the real issue was whether he could remain independent and live at home by himself. That is the sort of situation we are talking about in terms of many of the patients that the NHS deals with. Indeed, many patients with the highest expenditure in the NHS are those with complex problems that span clinical, social and other needs. So it is welcome to see primary care playing a major role in prevention and in helping patients find their way around the system.

Primary care is not just about GPs, and it is important to keep the two separate. There are different roles for many different people. One of the saddest pieces of research I have seen was published some years ago. It concerned young people suffering from depression and how they were treated in primary care and whether they were able to be taken seriously. There were too many accounts of people going to GP surgeries and being told to come back in three months if it was getting worse. In effect, they were being turned away. We need different routes in primary care for those who sometimes find it difficult to express their needs.

That takes me on to the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, about health and social care, and other areas such as health in education. He asked how far we should go to ensure that we have health provision in schools, whether in the form of health services or whether they are designed into the architecture of schools. He also asked if we should have local partnerships that are able to focus on what is needed. The noble Lord concentrated on social entrepreneurs, but I know that he, like me, is interested in how local partnerships made up of the right groups of people can have an enormous impact on a local environment in terms of health benefits and the related issues that go alongside them. By local partnerships, I am not just talking about individual organisations that bring health and social care together, but about partnerships that bring together everyone who has something to offer in this area. These can be quite difficult to conceptualise and describe in order to determine the policy that will promote them, so I would encourage the Government to look at some of the ones that work.

As I said, the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, referred to a number of social entrepreneurs and one or two exceptional GPs who have set up extraordinary practices that go way beyond what we would traditionally think of as healthcare. But I think that some of our PCTs have done exceptional things in trying to address inequalities, particularly in areas like mental health where we know that among the best things you can do for patients is help them to get jobs and housing. Among the range of entrepreneurial PCTs let me mention one particular group I know of and declare an interest in. Something like 20 UK PCTs are part of a group called Triple Aim. They are working alongside similar organisations in Scandinavia and the US, facilitated by an American organisation called the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Here I declare my interest because I am working with the organisation in Africa rather than in this country. It would be interesting for the Minister and the Department of Health to look at what these PCTs are trying to do by taking on a triple aim-to improve the health of the population, improve the care given to individuals, and reduce costs. They are doing so by trying to integrate with local partners. There are some good examples that we can build on and, taking a completely different example, a number of schools in this country have health facilities within them. So I urge the Government to look not just at the social entrepreneurs referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, but at the organisational people working within the system who are trying to make these things work; they go very much together.

Finally, I come back to the issue of primary care trusts and GPs. I have seen some statements from the Government about giving GPs and doctors more control. I understand and appreciate that. One of the great merits of the NHS that shows up in any comparison with other systems around the world is its primary care. This is one of our great strengths, among others, and we must preserve it. But however wonderful some GPs are, not all of them are. They are not all capable of taking on all the roles that we might think we would like them to. I pay tribute to the last Government because they were concerned about variations in performance between hospitals and did a great deal to bring the performance of the poorest up to the best. Among GPs, not surprisingly because there are so many of them, that range of variation is much wider. Sometimes we talk about GPs as if they are all the same, but to me that feels like something of a mistake.

Another issue in developing policy around GPs in the context of primary care is the potential for conflicts of interest, and again I suspect that the Department of Health has good examples of where, by putting more money into primary care decision-making hands, potentially and only in some areas you end up with conflicts of interest about how the money is spent. But-and it is a very big but-we have also seen great benefits from having primary care and GPs taking a lead. In particular, it is interesting that in a number of practices where the GPs have budgets and have taken a bigger lead around commissioning, they have changed the services they provide and the job roles of people. Increasingly you see people other than individual GPs when you attend a GP practice. That is all for the good, in both quality and cost terms.

I am reminded that 15 years ago we were trying to get more GPs into east London and tried to do so by recruiting salaried GPs-in other words, by moving away from the current model of GPs being self-employed. We were told we could never do that: it was not what GPs were about and it was essential that GPs were independent. I see the noble Lord, Lord Rea, nodding his head. However, we succeeded to some extent in making that happen but now it has all changed. Today, in practices where GPs are responsible for budgets and direct care, there are many salaried GPs and many people doing different kinds of jobs. That would not have been possible had you tried to make those changes from above. Indeed, GPs in London complain that they cannot get jobs as partners any more; there are now salaried jobs but the partnerships are being kept in fewer and fewer hands.

While that may be a downside, the important point is that doctors, as part of the entrepreneurial culture to which the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, referred, have the ability to make changes that mere managers, politicians and others from outside would find it difficult to make. It is important to build on that.

I hope that, like the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, the Government will look back on the years of change and development and learn the practical lessons. I should like to ask two specific questions. Will the Government look at innovative PCTs as well as innovative entrepreneurs, and perhaps consider Triple Aim as an example? How will the Minister clarify the relationship between PCTs and GPs in the future? I suspect this is one of the areas in which there is some confusion in the service at the moment over how primary care will be led, planning will be done and life will move on over the next few years.