Committee (5th Day)

Part of Health and Social Care Bill – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 14th November 2011.

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Photo of Lord Greaves Lord Greaves Liberal Democrat 7:00 pm, 14th November 2011

I was of course teasing the noble Lord in as pleasant a way that I could. This is another instance where Hansard ought to have a few smileys liberally littered round the text. The noble Lord made the same point, at slightly greater length, that I made when I referred to the kaleidoscope of bodies that we now have. An important job of this Committee is to sort out the relationship between all these different bodies before they are finally set up. We have got to do that absolutely vital job.

Subsection (2) of the noble Lord's proposed new section "Duty to reduce bureaucracy" says,

"For that purpose the Board must exercise its functions ... so as to ensure that at no time there exists more clinical commissioning groups than there were primary care trusts on 1 April 2011".

That is a slightly different point, hitched on to his bureaucracy point. This is a vital question. Again, this will not appear in the Bill-it will not say that there will be X number of clinical commissioning groups-but, in general terms, we need to have clear in our minds when the Bill leaves the House how many clinical commissioning groups there will be and of what sort of size. This has evolved with discussion over the legislation. When the first proposals came out-when they were called GP commissioning groups because that is what they were-there was a feeling among many people throughout the country, the health service and among politicians that they might be quite small, or even that large GP practices might try and do it on their own. A lot of people were alarmed by this because they thought it would not be very efficient and it would not work. How on earth do you commission the kind of facilities which have to be provided, whether it is a local health centre or specialist clinical services, on a sufficient scale? The more people thought about it, the more it seemed that these groups had to be larger than just a large GP practice or group of GP practices in a smallish town.

The Government then encouraged GPs in particular areas to get together and co-operate to set up early-stage shadow commissioning groups. This happened and the Government issued a statement saying that a high proportion of the country-I forget what, but perhaps 70 or 80 per cent-was covered by these voluntary, shadow groups. These GPs quite rightly wanted to make things work in their area, whatever they thought of the legislation and changes. In my part of the world, it tended to come down to one commissioning group per second-tier or lower-tier district council area, in places like Burnley, Hyndburn and Pendle. Now, apparently because of pressure from above, people are talking very strongly about having-or having to have-a commissioning group on the same boundaries as the existing primary care trust. This would not be the cluster of trusts that is at the county level but at a sub-county level.

So in effect people are looking at the groups and saying, "What will be the difference?" What will be different will be the functions and the direct control of community services, which effectively has gone already to the hospital trusts. As for commissioning, it will be effectively the same body, probably in the same premises, controlled by different people. We need to understand this regardless of whether it is necessary to reduce bureaucracy or whatever, which is secondary, in a sense. Before we leave the question of the commissioning groups, which we will be talking about in great detail, we in this House need to understand the Government's thinking about the future likely site of these groups.