Health and Social Care Bill — Report (3rd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:45 pm on 27th February 2012.

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Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords, Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 9:45 pm, 27th February 2012

My Lords, this is a useful debate and I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, will be able to describe how he thinks specialist services and services for less common conditions will be protected in the new arrangements.

We know that there have been problems with the current commissioning arrangements by primary care trusts, the issue being that if they are dealing with services that cover only a small group of patients they do not have the experience or expertise to commission services effectively. The possibility exists that clinical commissioning groups that cover even smaller areas than PCTs will have the same challenges to face. We know that the NHS Commissioning Board will be commissioning some services at a national level. It would be helpful if the noble Earl, Lord Howe, could explain the distinction between those services that will be deemed to be of national importance but there is clearly concern that CCGs will not be able to have the critical mass to commission locally, and so they fall to be commissioned nationally. Where will the line be drawn? There is a powerful case for highly specialist services and those that are known as services for less common conditions to be given some protection in the system.

Amendment 64ZA is rather different but it comes back to the point raised by my noble friend Lord Walton in our debates in Committee on the need for strategic direction on reconfiguration issues. I am sure that he is right, as indeed was the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, to point out that decisions on emergency care and specialist networks are very difficult to make. We know that we probably have too many hospitals providing emergency care at the moment, but we also know that it has often been very difficult to reach local consensus. I know that the thrust of the Government's legislation is for local determination but that is asking a lot. If you take a region you are asking for a huge number of clinical commissioning groups to come together and sign up to some kind of reconfiguration process which would lead to a more integrated approach in relation to emergency care. Without strategic health authorities and unless the local outposts of the national Commissioning Board are actually going to take an assertive role, there is a risk that we will not have the mechanism for making the kind of hard decisions that need to be made.

I am convinced that some strong, national leadership is required if you are to get movement on better emergency care and an acceptance that the current arrangements in some parts of the country simply will not do. It is interesting to see the debate in Mid Staffordshire following the problems in that trust and the recent publication of letters sent by the local clinical commissioning groups about the future of that hospital, causing a furore in the area. It shows some of the problems of an individual clinical commissioning group seeking to come to a view about the kind of reconfiguration of acute services. Of course, CCGs will need an input, but some external view and leadership would be very helpful to enable us to get better provision of services. As my noble friend Lord Walton says, one of the best examples of this is in relation to stroke services. The experience in London has shown, without any doubt, that pooling stroke services together in a limited number of acute centres has led to hugely enhanced outcomes. As a result of the London experience the strategic health authorities are requiring the same to be done throughout the rest of the country. The question I put to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, is: under the arrangements in the Bill, how can we ensure that that kind of national leadership will continue?