Health and Social Care Bill — Report (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:00 pm on 13th February 2012.

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Photo of Baroness Hollins Baroness Hollins Crossbench 10:00 pm, 13th February 2012

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 55 and 238. My noble friend Lord Rix sincerely regrets that he could not stay this evening as his wife is unwell.

The three amendments tabled by my noble friend to this Bill have been placed together in this one group. I welcome this opportunity to speak to them. Noble Lords will be aware that these issues were raised during the Committee stage of the Bill. My noble friend recently met the Minister to discuss the matters that I am about to raise in relation to people with a learning disability. It is appropriate for me to declare an interest as a psychiatrist specialising in learning disability and also because my son has a learning disability.

To be fair to the Government, it could be argued that the broader issues which these amendments attempt to resolve could have been addressed by the National Health Service many years ago. However, my noble friend and I are using the opportunity presented by this Bill in an attempt to tackle them now. The first amendment, Amendment 37, aims to ensure that health services for those with the most complex needs are commissioned by the NHS Commissioning Board. Concerns were expressed about this issue in Committee. We seek assurances that health services for those with the most complex needs, particularly people with profound and multiple learning disabilities and people with complex needs whose behaviour challenges services, will be commissioned centrally by the NHS board. This amendment would ensure that the NHS Commissioning Board has oversight in this area, including the co-ordination and commissioning of specialist services or facilities for this particular group of disabled people. Any assurances that the Minister may be in a position to provide on this matter would be welcome.

The second amendment tabled in the name of my noble friend, Amendment 55, concerns the importance of collecting data on the experience and outcomes encountered by all patients in the NHS. Where a patient has a disability, it would also ensure a breakdown of disability by impairment type. In Committee, the Minister informed the House that his department is working with the NHS information centre to explore the extent to which indicators in the NHS outcomes framework can be disaggregated to show impairment types, which we would both welcome. However, if the information is not collected at source, clearly there will be limits to which this can be achieved. The Minister also stated that the Government's NHS information strategy aims to cover this issue too, when it is published later this year. Any additional assurances that the Minister is willing to give about what steps the Government will take to ensure that data are collected at source would be welcome.

The third and final amendment, Amendment 238, concerns the provision of independent advocacy services for people who are in the process of making a complaint against the NHS. For those who are unfortunate enough to encounter it, the NHS complaints system is flawed and ineffective. We welcome the Government's proposal for local authorities to make appropriate provision to support people in the complaints process through the use of advocacy services. However, there is a risk that advocacy support could be started and then halted some time before any conclusion to an ongoing complaint has been made. In Committee, the Minister emphasised that local authorities would have the discretion to provide independent advocacy services, consistent with their legal obligations, as they deem appropriate. My noble friend is particularly concerned that such discretion could leave many families without the on-going advocacy support that they need. Is the Minister able to provide my noble friend with any comforting words on that matter? I beg to move.