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 Wheeler Baroness Wheeler Opposition Whip (Lords) 8:45 pm, 29th February 2012

My Lords, I would have liked to debate this amendment in the light of next week's debate on the status, powers and functions of HealthWatch England under Clause 180, when we will fully air once again the serious and continuing concerns across the House about the proposed relationship between HealthWatch England and the CQC, and hear from the Minister how the Government intend to address these concerns as they flesh out their proposals for healthwatch, and as the CQC comes under closer scrutiny. However, we support this amendment requiring the Secretary of State to include HealthWatch England in the organisations specified in the Bill that he or she must keep under review. Obviously we do this in the context of the separate independence of HealthWatch and not as a committee of the CQC.

However, it is also important to make it clear that we do not think that the measure in itself, or combined with other government proposals, for example, on the HealthWatch board membership, will be anywhere near enough to provide the independence that HealthWatch England needs if it is to be the robust and trusted patients' watchdog that is needed-and I emphasise trusted by the public.

The Minister must appreciate that the concerns across the House over the CQC's relationship are not addressed by referring to the close synergies between the two organisations or to the powers and influence of the CQC rubbing off on HealthWatch. In this context it is difficult not to dwell on the recent developments in the commission and the Department of Health performance and capability review of the commission. I say this as a genuine supporter of the CQC and its work-for example, last year's excellent special review of stroke services, and the one of residential care-but the department's major findings that the CQC needs to be more strategic, that accountabilities within the CQC are unclear, as well as the strong concern over the blurring of boundaries between the CQC board and executive team, do not augur well for the future relationship between the CQC and HealthWatch.

Of course, we will come to these matters in detail when we have the full debate on HealthWatch and local healthwatch organisations. I hope that at that stage the Minister will address these ongoing concerns, particularly about the clash of cultures between HealthWatch and the CQC, about public faith and trust and HealthWatch if it is to be formally linked to the CQC, and the lack of confidence in the new arrangements by the overwhelming number of LINks organisations and NALM. As the letter from NALM in the Guardian earlier this week underlined:

"Healthwatch will only be considered the true voice of the public, if it is seen to be independent of those it monitors".

I look forward to next week's debate.