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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:30 pm on 27th February 2012.

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Photo of Baroness Morgan of Drefelin Baroness Morgan of Drefelin Crossbench 10:30 pm, 27th February 2012

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 66AA and 67AA in my name. The amendments are all designed to ensure that we have a strong commitment to the research duty throughout the NHS that matches the aspiration and vision set out so clearly during the debates on this issue on Report. There have not been many elements of the Bill so far that have been welcomed and united the House quite so strongly as the Government's acceptance of the strengthening of the research duty placed on the Secretary of State, the NHS Commissioning Board and the clinical commissioning groups. As we know, that was met with universal support around the House. Once again for the record, I declare an interest as chief executive of a medical research charity, Breast Cancer Campaign, which is a proud member of the Association of Medical Research Charities. We have been one organisation among many calling for the research duty to be strengthened.

While amendments to strengthen the research duty were widely supported, the debate on the first day of Report when these amendments were discussed reiterated a critical issue that was also raised in Committee: the duties must be meaningful and must therefore be monitored. There must be monitoring mechanisms in place throughout the system to ensure that the research duty is not there in theory alone. For that reason, I was reassured to hear from the Minister that the Secretary of State would be expected to report on how he fulfils his statutory duty annually, that CCGs will need to demonstrate how they will exercise important functions, including the duty of research during the authorisation process, and that a CCG's commissioning plan and annual report will cover the exercise of the duty of all the CCG's functions. However, no mention was made during the debate of the NHS Commissioning Board being required to report back on its duties when reporting its annual plan and business plan. The purpose of Amendments 66AA and 67AA is to make sure that we really address this key matter. I admit to being a bit confused about the Government's position on reporting on duties. On the one hand, the research duties have quite rightly been strengthened but, on the other hand, there is a notable reluctance to ensure that it is a priority and a requirement for the Commissioning Board to report back on the activity relating to this duty. We need to have that transparency, so that we can see the benefits of the duty percolating through the system.

The duty relating to research is now stronger in wording than the duty relating to inequalities, but the Government have decided to include their own amendment, adding inequalities to the list of duties on which the board will be required to report. They have chosen not to do likewise for research. While I welcome and support the requirement to report on inequalities, this new step by the Government has reinforced my concern over whether there are sufficient reporting mechanisms embedded in the new structures of the NHS to promote adequately the vision of a research-led NHS that has found such widespread support in this House.

If, as the Minister may respond, all duties should be reported back on, why have this subsection, which identifies and highlights specific duties, within the clause at all? We are looking at a case of first among equals when it comes to some of the duties that the board is required to fulfil. How are we to understand what differences this will bring in reporting requirements? I hope that the Minister can use the opportunity now, late as it is, to reassure me that research will be a priority for the Commissioning Board and that there will be explicit reference to research and to the board's plans in relation to it in the business plan and in the report.

Amendment 60A is to seek further clarity on what is to be understood by the term,

"research on matters relevant to the Health Service".

My concern on this point is to ensure that the terminology used in the duty should be sufficiently comprehensive. For example, will the current wording require the NHS to enable research to occur, and to support it, as well as utilising the evidence from research that is available? Having discussed this with the noble Earl, I am confident that he will be able to reassure me on this point. I beg to move.