Report (5th Day)

Part of Health and Social Care Bill – in the House of Lords at 8:30 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 8:30 pm, 6th March 2012

My Lords, this has been an interesting debate and I thank in particular the noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Warner, and my noble friend Lady Cumberlege for tabling Amendment 191 and for giving me the opportunity to explain the Government's thinking on the important issue of patient and public involvement in Monitor's work. We are very clear that patients must lie at the centre of the reformed NHS and that the Bill establishes mechanisms to ensure that that is the case. Health and well-being boards are part of those arrangements and HealthWatch will have a vital role in giving patients and the public a real voice throughout the NHS. I can therefore understand the intent of Amendment 191-and I wish that I could accept it. However, I am sorry to say that in practical terms it is not workable and I will explain why.

The list in Clause 95(8) relates to consultation but this is expected to take place before bodies such as HealthWatch and health and well-being boards are formally established. In other words, Amendment 191 would impose a statutory requirement with which Monitor could not possibly comply. The list at subsection (8) deliberately includes only those bodies that will be in existence at the expected time of the consultation.

I can nevertheless offer the noble Lord and the House firm reassurances on this issue. First, Clause 95(8)(e) gives Monitor powers to include in the consultation "such other persons" as it "considers appropriate". Clause 61(7) places a general duty on Monitor to secure the involvement of patients and the public in decisions on the exercise of its functions, and we would firmly expect Monitor to use those powers to involve patients and the public fully in the consultation. Secondly, Clause 95(11) would require Monitor to consult with HealthWatch England, with the NHS Commissioning Board and with every clinical commissioning group in the event that the consultation takes place later than currently expected and after these bodies have been established. I hope that I have been able to reassure the House that Amendment 191 is not only unnecessary, but would actually put Monitor in an extremely difficult position, and that the noble Lord, Lord Patel, will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

I turn now to Amendment 196, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. The amendment raises an important issue, that of making sure that patients receive the compensation to which they are entitled in the unfortunate event that they are harmed as a result of clinical negligence. The Government agree that that there must be equivalent safeguards in place for patients irrespective of who provides their NHS services. Currently the NHS contract which providers must hold to deliver services requires adequate and sufficient indemnity arrangements to be in place. In addition, to ensure equivalent protection for the future, the Government's preference is to enable all providers of NHS services access to the clinical negligence scheme for trusts. That would mean that all providers of NHS services would have access to the same level of protection for patients, whether those providers were private, voluntary or public sector. The department has asked the NHS Litigation Authority for advice on the options for modifying the scheme and expects that new arrangements would be in place for the next round of NHS contracts in April 2013.

I hope, therefore, that the noble Baroness will appreciate that I strongly agree with the spirit of her amendment. Nevertheless, I must set out my concerns around its potential effect, if she is thinking of pressing it. First, the amendment could be implemented by employing organisations requiring indemnity from their own staff. Employees would then have to obtain their own personal indemnity. However, I do not believe it would be right to transfer this burden to staff or that employees would support it. Further, I do not believe it would be cost-effective. My second concern is about potential unintended consequences. Currently the Limitation Act 1990 limits the time available that personal injury claimants have to bring their claim. The overwhelming majority of claimants have three years to make their claim under the terms of that Act. Requiring all providers to hold indemnity for the lifetime of all patients, potentially much longer than a patient's legal entitlement to make a claim, would be disproportionate and incur significant costs. Overall, the effect of such a wide-reaching clause would be to divert resource unnecessarily away from patient care. I am sure that that is not what the noble Baroness would ever seek to do and I do not believe that it is in the interests of patients or the NHS. I hope that on reflection and in the light of my assurances about what we are planning, the noble Baroness will feel able not to press her amendment.

The noble Baroness also referred to her Amendment 192, which I think we debated in a previous group. The Government have listened to concerns on education and training raised by her and other noble Lords and we have brought forward amendments to require the board and CCGs to have regard to the need to promote education and training when exercising their functions. Further, the Bill requires Monitor in Clause 64(j) to have regard to,

"the need for high standards in the education and training of health care professionals", when exercising its functions. I suggest to the noble Baroness that Amendment 192 is not required.

At this juncture, it might be worth quickly reminding the House that all providers of NHS services will be licensed by Monitor. The Royal College of Physicians has sought reassurances on how patient choice of any qualified provider would work. Even though the choice of any qualified provider is not in the Bill, I am happy to confirm that providers would always be required to comply with national quality standards. Under our reforms, providers above a minimum size would be expected to take part in the provision of education and training, and to work within agreed local care pathways to ensure safe and joined-up care. I hope that that is a reassurance not only to the Royal College of Physicians but to other noble Lords.