Health and Social Care Bill — Report (4th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:45 pm on 29th February 2012.

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Photo of Baroness Cumberlege Baroness Cumberlege Conservative 8:45 pm, 29th February 2012

My Lords, this is a very simple and non-controversial amendment. Under Clause 51, the Secretary of State has a duty to keep under review the effectiveness of key bodies in the NHS. This is a crucial part of the Secretary of State's responsibilities in ensuring that he or she can exercise ministerial accountability for the health service. As this is a new body, through the Secretary of State, we will want to ensure that it is to carry out its functions effectively. Healthwatch England has to undertake certain tasks-for example, making annual reports to be laid before Parliament. Other reports will be at its discretion. These activities will be easy to monitor, but it will be much more difficult to assess the quality and the appropriateness of the advice and information or other assistance it chooses to give.

In her letter to noble Lords on 21 December, my noble friend Lady Northover told us that she did not expect Healthwatch England to give the CQC, the NHS Commissioning Board or other bodies an easy ride. She went on to state:

"We fully expect HealthWatch England to raise what at times may be awkward, difficult questions with respect to health ... and to be able to do this publicly".

It is the Government's intention to create not a patsy organisation but one that will be a champion of health and, on occasions, a difficult and awkward companion, focused on improving the quality of care in both health and social services. If it does not, it will not fully represent the voice of patients and service users.

The Care Quality Commission is one body listed in the clause. As the Bill stands, HealthWatch England will be a committee of the CQC. However, as we have discussed in many debates on the Bill-and I believe that more are to come when we come to debate the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Patel-there will be a need for it to remain operationally independent of the Care Quality Commission. Therefore, I suggest that a review of the Care Quality Commission may not be an appropriate way of fully scrutinising the role of HealthWatch England, and that such scrutiny should be included in its own right in the clause.

That is why I tabled an amendment to add HealthWatch England to the list of bodies that the Secretary of State must keep under review. It would make it clear that HealthWatch England is independently accountable for how effectively it goes about its work, and cannot be overshadowed by-or hide behind-the review of the role of the CQC. I hope that my noble friend will look kindly on this simple and not very earth-shattering amendment. I beg to move.