Report (5th Day)

Part of Health and Social Care Bill – in the House of Lords at 8:45 pm on 6th March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Warner Lord Warner Labour 8:45 pm, 6th March 2012

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 214G which stands in my name. The amendments arise from our debate in Committee about what we then described as a "pre-failure regime". The argument that I was trying to sustain, with helpful support from different parts of the Committee, was that it would be better for Monitor to get engaged when it could see failure coming at it down the track rather than waiting for the train crash to occur and use the health special administration procedures that were provided for in the Bill.

My amendment then was probably technically defective but it served the purpose of raising the issue. The Minister was not so off-putting that I thought that I would not have another go at this, so, with the help of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, I put down Amendment 217, which is in this group. Following that, the Minister engaged with me in some rather helpful and fruitful discussions and the results of those discussions were Amendments 196ZA and 214G. In my enthusiasm for tabling these amendments I completely forgot to remove Amendment 217, which is why it is still on the Marshalled List. I assure the Minister that I have no intention whatever of moving Amendment 217.

The nub of what is in Amendment 196ZA is that it provides for Monitor when it can see that a licence holder's conditions are likely to be imperilled by a current configuration of health services in the wider health economy-not just within that licence holder's own individual trust. It can draw the attention of commissioners-the National Commissioning Board and clinical commissioning groups-to those risks which it can foresee and it has to give its reasons for doing so. But rightly in my view and, I believe, that of the Government, it puts the onus on the commissioners to do something about it. It does not require a top-down intervention, but it flags up very seriously to the commissioners that a problem is looming and they need to do something about it. Just to give more force to that, each financial year Monitor will publish a list of the notifications that it has issued in that financial year, putting commissioners on notice that they have a problem, that they need to do something about the reconfiguration of services and that they need to take some action to ensure that there are sustainable NHS services in that part of the country.

I pay tribute to the civil servants at the Department of Health because they have done something rather ingenious that I never even thought of in Amendment 214G, which is to take an application by a service provider to Monitor to secure some adjustment in the price paid for particular services to make Monitor think about whether there is anything more significant behind that application and whether there is a risk to the sustainability of services in a particular area. If it does consider that that is necessary, it can again notify the commissioners of its concerns about the need to consider service reconfiguration in that area.

These two amendments, which have been given a lot of technical help by the Department of Health and a lot of support from the Minister, meet my concerns and, having talked briefly to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, I believe that they also meet hers. There is an adequate set of arrangements to put commissioners on notice that failure may be looming so that they can take action under their responsibilities. Just to make sure that they do, each year there will be a list of the notifications that Monitor has issued so that it is on the public record that Monitor has spotted that there is something of concern and has required commissioners to take action.

That meets my concerns and I think that it meets the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby and the noble Lord, Lord Patel. In order to table the amendment in time for today's debate, I did not have time to collect the signatures of my partners in crime on Amendment 217, but I have every reason to believe that they would be satisfied with the Government's response to our concerns.

With regard to subsection (5) of Amendment 217, which I have mentioned to the Minister, I think it would be a good idea if the Government were to consider assembling a group with expertise to help local people to reconfigure their services. It is often difficult for people at the local level to think through how they might reconfigure services to make them sustainable. I do not suggest a top-down approach but some sort of panel that could help local people and facilitate the reshaping and redesign of services. That would be a helpful way of proceeding. It might help a lot of people to get through the difficult task of reshaping services when the need arises. Without further ado, I beg to move.