Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Committee (5th Day)

Part of Health and Social Care Bill – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 14th November 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Harris of Haringey Lord Harris of Haringey Labour 6:30 pm, 14th November 2011

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege. She and I have sat opposite each other at meetings for more years than I care to remember.

However, her belief that the chair of the NHS Commissioning Board will only be able to manage a board of 11 is slightly misplaced. We already know that the person who holds this office will be able to walk on water, with due deference to the most reverend Primate. We know that this individual will have the most extraordinary qualities. Indeed, the Health Select Committee has demonstrated that by the overwhelming vote that it gave him on his appointment. Therefore, any person of such calibre who is able to manage a quango with such an enormous budget must surely be able to manage a board of more than 11 people. That goes without saying.

It is probably unhelpful for the Bill to specify precisely the number of people who will be appointed because circumstances will change. At different times it may be appropriate to have particular people or specialisms involved, but that will change over time. To lay down the numbers too specifically is probably a mistake. Indeed, I am not sure that 11 is a sensible number for the effectiveness of boards. It is too large for the most efficient and effective of boards but it is not quite large enough to bring together all the strands of opinion and expertise that you might wish to bring.

My main reason for intervening was not to pick up on that point but to question a couple of the amendments, in particular Amendment 52C in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly. The amendment refers to the board,

"including one member who is also the Chair of Healthwatch England".

That is a misguided amendment. It is very important that the viewpoint of the patient is heard clearly by the NHS Commissioning Board, but it would be wrong to bind HealthWatch England into the collective decisions that will be taken by the NHS Commissioning Board. Had the amendment said something along the lines of, "The chair of HealthWatch England will be able to attend all meetings of the NHS Commissioning Board and to contribute to them fully" rather than talking about membership, it would have been much better.

There is already a concern that HealthWatch England will not be seen as a properly independent organisation, partly because in the Bill it is framed as a committee of the CQC and also because the local healthwatch organisations will be wholly owned subsidiaries of local councils around the country and the money for them will not even be ring-fenced. Under those circumstances, there is a real problem about the reality of the independence of HealthWatch England. Further to put the chair of that body in the position of perhaps having collective responsibilities for NHS Commissioning Board decisions is potentially a serious mistake. I would like to see a position where the board has the chair of HealthWatch England as an adviser. His advice may or may not be accepted, but it will be on the record what advice has been given.

I hesitate to oppose an amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath but the same applies to the Chief Medical Officer. He should be there to advise the board-and that advice should be recorded-rather than being a member of the board and therefore being part of that collective responsibility. In framing the structure of the NHS Commissioning Board, there needs to be clarity of thought. There are a number of areas of expertise and interests that ought to be reflected in board membership-those individuals should bring their expertise to the table-but they cannot be there as representatives of those particular interests because they will have to take collective responsibility for the decisions of the board. However, it is also important that you have explicitly there a number of people to give advice. That should certainly include the chair of HealthWatch England and the Chief Medical Officer.