Report (5th Day)

Part of Health and Social Care Bill – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 6th March 2012.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 6:00 pm, 6th March 2012

My Lords, it is a concern that I understand. The destabilisation of the NHS will naturally be a concern to all commissioners, which is why they can protect that situation through the contract. They could insist through the contract that a provider provided the full range of services rather than a select few. I simply say to the noble Baroness that we are alive to that concern and I have no doubt that commissioners will be as time goes on.

On the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, he will be disappointed to hear that I am not drawn to going any further than the Bill does, much as I understand that his idea is well-intentioned. I say that because of Monitor's overarching duty to protect patients' interests and prevent anti-competitive behaviour that would harm those interests. This amended duty reflects what the Future Forum recommended and it is right that we stick with that. I can, however, offer the noble Lord, Lord Warner, some reassurance. First, in carrying out its duty to address anti-competitive behaviour, Monitor will necessarily have to identify it. Secondly, Monitor would have the power under Chapter 2 of Part 3 to conduct market studies and to refer potential barriers to new entrants for further investigation by the competition authorities where necessary. I hope that that is of some comfort also to the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale.

We had a most constructive debate in Committee about the Secretary of State's accountability for securing a comprehensive health service in England and his role in holding Monitor to account for its duties. I thank my noble friend Lady Williams for proposing an amendment which adds much to the Bill in this area. Clause 61 already requires Monitor to carry out its functions in a manner consistent with the Secretary of State's performance of his duty to promote a comprehensive health service. My noble friend's amendment would strengthen these provisions and thereby improve the Bill on a key issue. This would help to ensure that the Secretary of State can discharge effectively his responsibility for the health service in England and that Monitor carries out its functions to that end. I support my noble friend's amendment.

Clause 64 specifies the range of matters that Monitor would be obliged to have regard to in carrying out its duties. In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, and my noble friend Lady Williams raised some concerns about that list. I agreed to reflect on these concerns and have tabled Amendments 168 to 171, which would rationalise the list and make it clear that maintaining patient safety would be the paramount consideration. I hope that the noble Baroness and my noble friend will be content with that rationalisation.

On the amendment tabled by noble friend Lady Cumberlege, the Bill ensures that patient and public involvement is embedded at every level of the healthcare system. However, unlike the NHS Commissioning Board and clinical commissioning groups, Monitor would not be responsible for securing NHS services to meet patients' needs. It is a regulator, with economic and more technical functions. Clause 61 reflects this and gives Monitor the responsibility for determining arrangements for patient and public involvement as appropriate to its functions. So I am afraid that I do not regard my noble friend's amendment as appropriate. She asked what could be done if Monitor did not involve patients in the right way. Well, the Secretary of State would hold Monitor to account as to how it discharged its functions. Monitor would have to report to the Secretary of State on how it was discharging its duty on patient and public involvement as part of its annual report. The Secretary of State could also request a specific report on how Monitor discharged this function and intervene where there had been a significant failure in meeting this duty. The Bill provides for Healthwatch to send advice to Monitor as it seems appropriate. Monitor would then be required to respond to this advice in writing. I hope that my noble friend will take comfort from those points.

I stress once again that the purpose of Part 3 is to strengthen sector regulation in healthcare to protect and promote patients' interests. The current system is inadequate, fragmented and duplicative. It fails to protect the interests of all patients. Part 3 recognises that the NHS is not and never has been a single institution. The reality of the NHS is a comprehensive health service that has always been delivered by a diverse range of providers.

Part 3 would address gaps in the current system by extending equivalent safeguards to protect patients' interests irrespective of who provides their NHS services. It would also make sector regulation in the NHS more effective in driving improvements and enabling integration during an absolutely crucial period of economic challenge.

I am very happy to support the amendments of my noble friend Lady Williams, which would improve the Bill, but I urge, following the reassurances and explanation that I have been able to give, other noble Lords not to press their amendments.