Committee (5th Day)

Part of Health and Social Care Bill – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 14th November 2011.

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Photo of Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Crossbench 6:00 pm, 14th November 2011

My Lords, I rise to speak to this amendment, which is also in my name, and to support the other amendments in this group. They have the effect of ensuring that public health considerations and public health expertise are given due weight in the new arrangements set out in the Bill.

Public health covers three main domains: health improvement; health protection; and health service delivery. Public health specialists are trained and skilled in interpreting data and information about populations, understanding health needs and securing the services required to meet those needs. That expertise is vital to having effective commissioning at every level, particularly that of the NHS Commissioning Board, which will have the overarching responsibility for commissioning health services, so as to ensure that the services are effective, appropriate, equitable, accessible and cost-effective. It therefore seems only sensible to make sure that that expertise is incorporated at board level.

The Commissioning Board exists to secure and improve the health of the population through the NHS services it commissions, and indeed through the services which are not NHS-provided, if I have understood this Bill correctly. To do this, the board would benefit from public health input. Public health specialists have an unparalleled overview of a community's need for health services and how they are best commissioned, including changing, adapting or even decommissioning services which could work better in other ways. The role of a public health specialist would also be to provide the essential expertise needed to commission preventive services, such as screening and immunisation, and to look at the evidence relating to those services. The board may need the courage to decommission some of those services as well, or to substantially alter the way that they are delivered.

It would be inappropriate to say that this is going to be too expensive, because a public health specialist should pay for themselves many times over with their presence on the board. It is only by having such an expert at board level that we can their ensure expertise is incorporated into decision-making, rather than only feeding into the process in an advisory capacity.