Report (6th Day)

Part of Health and Social Care Bill – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 8th March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Patel Lord Patel Crossbench 3:15 pm, 8th March 2012

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her response. I think that the conversation, or lack of it, was unfortunate because not only did it not allow people to put their questions at the correct time, it probably interrupted the noble Baroness's flow of speech and thoughts. Having said that, I am flattered by her compliments on what I had to say. However, she did not address the fundamental point when I speak for those who are concerned about public and patient involvement. She has said that the statute provides that HealthWatch England will be a committee. That is quite different from a statute which provides that HealthWatch England will be independent. Again, there is a vast difference. Also, in terms of its functions, there is nothing in the statute that says that HealthWatch England will have the power to ask for or demand information in the interests of patients and the public in order to demonstrate that the quality of care provided is not adequate. Although the statute recognises that HealthWatch England will have strong relationships with Monitor, the Commissioning Board and so on, it will not have the power in statute to demand that independently. It has the power in statute to work through the CQC to ask for that. That is what concerns people outside. Indeed, while listening to the debate I was getting e-mails saying, "This is not what we asked for and it is not what we want. This does not give us confidence that we will have the necessary authority to respond".

The one lone voice in the wilderness, although it might have been loud, came from the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy. She suggested that this is ideal because of one very good chief executive in mid-Sussex. I wish we could clone her. For every one that is successful there will be 10 failures, and it is those failures which a good, powerful and independent HealthWatch England would be able to address when a local healthwatch organisation fails because the chief executive is not being supportive.

There are many issues here. If we are serious about giving the public and patients a strong voice, the Government must recognise that they need strong support and that they need it for a long time. Although I have not been associated with patient and public organisations in England, I have been involved with them on three different occasions. In fact, I set up one of them. I should say to the Minister that I thought I did a brilliant job. I gave it all the powers one could possibly give in terms of setting standards, inspecting hospitals, writing reports and criticising every service. It worked well, but it fell down because its strong support was withdrawn. It is important to recognise that if we are serious about giving patients and the public a strong voice, we need to give them status. We should not treat them like juveniles who do not understand the issues. They should be treated with the respect they deserve and be given strong support.

Unless the Minister is about to tell me that suddenly she is hearing a different message and that we can have a further conversation and another opportunity to look at this, I am afraid that, for those outside who are concerned about this, I will have to seek the opinion of the House.