Report (5th Day)

Part of Health and Social Care Bill – in the House of Lords at 7:30 pm on 6th March 2012.

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Photo of Baroness Hollins Baroness Hollins Crossbench 7:30 pm, 6th March 2012

My Lords, I would like some reassurance that the regulation of competition will improve on the current situation in some circumstances. I do not know whether these amendments, or any existing provision in the Bill, will achieve that. I have a couple of examples about which I feel uncomfortable.

First, I am keen to know whether adequate safeguards are in place for the kind of situation that occurred in Surrey, to ensure that the range of providers envisaged by the Government will be able to compete on a level playing field. I remember the wise words of the economist Fritz Schumacher that sometimes "small is beautiful". Can the Minister tell the House on what basis it was decided that a £10 million bond would be required as surety from bidders for the NHS contract tendered last year for community services in south-west and north-west Surrey? The winning tender was a private company and the loser was Social Enterprise UK, which is currently providing services to central Surrey but which did not have the £10 million in the bank. That organisation is providing high-quality community services which have been acclaimed by the noble Lord's own department. At the end of its three-year contract, will it simply be taken over by the large private company which has more money in the bank?

My second question relates to the culture within the NHS and medical practice. Since the NHS began over 60 years ago, most doctors have worked primarily in the NHS and used their clinical skills first and foremost for NHS patients. There have been special contractual arrangements in place to ensure that NHS specialists with a private practice do not neglect their NHS patients. I think it is fair to say that specialists with a thriving private practice usually put their extra energy into their private practice. They are not the ones who contribute to managing and developing NHS services, and nor do they usually make much contribution to research.

Let me give the House one example of how the culture within medicine is being encouraged to change. The presidents of many if not all of the medical royal colleges have been invited to a champagne reception and dinner at a posh London venue in a couple of weeks' time. The invitation comes from a firm of solicitors and the Royal Bank of Scotland, and it states:

"Against the backdrop of challenging economic conditions and massive pressure on the public purse, we are keen to explore how other professions might be able to support your membership and the healthcare sector generally".

This seems to be a new phase in encouraging and supporting doctors to turn their attention to setting up in private practice, in chambers and in other private healthcare organisations. That is a departure from our history. Is this the direction that the Government hope the medical profession will move in? What safeguards does the Bill contain with respect to competition to protect the NHS?