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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:15 pm on 27th February 2012.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 10:15 pm, 27th February 2012

My Lords, they will come under the aegis of the NHS Commissioning Board. They will be part of the board.

Having said all that, I remain unconvinced that imposing specific duties as to where advice should come from, including specifying particular sources of advice such as in Amendments 57 and 99, is the right way forward. I am afraid that if we were to do that, there would be then justifiable demands to include in the Bill other clinicians and groups of people who commissioners should seek advice from when exercising this duty. My view is that this is horses for courses, and that it is appropriate that the board and CCGs should have the freedom to determine what advice it is appropriate to seek in each instance. That is why the emphasis in the duties as they stand is rightly placed on ensuring that the commissioner obtains "appropriate advice" from people with a broad range of professional expertise. It is that breadth of expertise which is important, not the particular professionals involved.

Amendments 58 and 100 are admirable, if I may say so, in that they seek to require that the advice should come from across the care pathway. I have every sympathy with the noble Baroness's intentions there. Again, however, I think that this is already provided for in the duty which-in its reference to expertise in the prevention, diagnosis, or treatment of illness, and the need to obtain advice from persons who, taken together, have a broad range of professional expertise-is designed to be of maximum scope, and I am confident that it will be interpreted as such.

We have also just discussed the important role that both patients, and the organisations that represent their interests, can bring to the commissioning process. However, I think that Amendments 59 and 101 are unnecessary. Let us be clear that while these duties refer to obtaining advice from people with expertise in relation to the health service, this is not confined to clinical expertise. There is nothing to prevent the board or CCGs securing advice from patients' organisations, or those with expertise in the patient experience. The board can also draw on the advice of national and local healthwatch as a conduit for such advice. CCGs, similarly, are able to draw on the advice of local healthwatch.

However, to reiterate the point that I made in Committee, there is a risk in becoming too prescriptive. In reality, we have to trust them to build these relationships themselves and judge them on the outcomes that they achieve. If we commission for good outcomes, we will, as night follows day, secure the appropriate knowledge and advice to enable us to do that.

It will also be an important part of the board's remit to produce advice and guidance to prevent the recurrence of incidents that jeopardise patient safety, just as the National Patient Safety Agency does now. It is important that the board is able to share relevant information relating to patient safety. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, is absolutely right that information that can inform and enhance patient safety in the NHS should be made available to all those who would benefit from it. The NPSA, as he will know, currently shares this information with a number of bodies with a particular role in relation to patient safety-for example, the MHRA and the CQC-and this will continue to be the case. Indeed, if it did not make important information available to those who it thought could reasonably benefit from it, the board would be in breach of its duty.

In addition to NHS bodies, this information is currently also used to develop products for use by non-NHS organisations, by the devolved Administrations and international organisations, for which the board may determine it appropriate to charge a fee. It is for those reasons that we have framed the duty to share information in broad terms, and we would not want to be more prescriptive in the way that Amendment 65 proposes. Neither would we want to prevent the board charging a fee when appropriate, as would be the effect of Amendment 66. I think that it is reasonable for the board to determine how and in what circumstances it may impose charges for the information it provides. The power is intended to allow the board to seek adequate compensation for the services that it provides to other bodies where there would otherwise be no benefit to the health service. However, there is no scope for the board to charge for the advice and guidance that it would be required to provide for the purpose of maintaining and improving patient safety, and although there is provision for the board to impose charges, Clause 22, which inserts new Section 13Q(4), makes it clear that the board must give, not sell, advice and guidance to appropriate bodies to maintain and improve the safety of the health service. I hope that that is reassuring to noble Lords.

The noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, asked me about the monitoring of advice and what happens if they fail on that duty. CCGs will have an annual performance assessment by the board, which would assess how well they discharge their functions, including this duty to obtain advice. If a CCG fails to perform any of its functions, effectively the board can intervene and can take action. I hope that the clarification I have given is helpful and that I have sufficiently reassured noble Lords to enable them to withdraw their Amendments 57, 58, 59, 65 and 66.

Amendments 72 and 115 in my name clarify the circumstances in which the board of CCGs must consider common-law confidentiality requirements when considering whether or not to disclose information. We have listened to the views expressed by my noble friend Lord Marks, the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, and the BMA; they drew attention to circumstances where, if common law did not apply, there was the potential for disclosure to threaten patient confidentiality. We are therefore bringing forward these amendments to achieve what we believe is an appropriate balance between ensuring that information is disclosed when appropriate and protecting personal confidential information. The amendments are tabled in my name to achieve this, and I hope that they will receive the support of the House.