My Lords, my Amendments 88R and 88S take us back to the amendments which I moved last week on eligibility criteria, inspired by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. Promoting individuals’ well-being, assessing their needs and those of carers, deciding on eligibility and the priority for needs to be met, developing them with an appropriate care and support plan, enabling the best use of a personal budget and/or direct payments and ensuring continuity of capacity during and after a move, such as a house move, are all processes or stages in which the active engagement of NHS professionals or services could have a positive effect on the outcome for individuals and carers.
In his response, the noble Earl said that he agreed and that the Care Bill already allowed for that kind of co-operation from the NHS through Clauses 1 and 3. He also pointed out that Clause 12(1)(f) sets out regulations where a local authority must consult with someone with expertise before undertaking an assessment. He went on to say:
“Regulations may also set out conditions around co-operation with the NHS, by specifying the circumstances in which the local authority must refer the adult concerned for an assessment of eligibility for NHS continuing healthcare”. —[Official Report, 3/7/13; col. 1272.]
That is helpful but I wonder if we should go further and place an explicit responsibility on the NHS so that we know it plays its part in full.
Amendment 88Q, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and my Amendment 88T focus on the eligibility criteria in the draft regulations. We support national eligibility criteria. As the consultation paper says,
“the needs which are determined to be ‘eligible’ vary from one area to another”,
at the moment, with local authorities,
“able to set their own ‘eligibility threshold’ or ‘criteria’…This approach has led to perceived wide distances between areas and inconsistency in the offer made to local people, confusion and legal challenge. Because local authorities are able to vary the threshold over time, it also leads to the fear that people may lose their care and support if ‘eligible needs’ are reclassified locally”.
It is also very helpful to have the draft regulations available for debate and I have been able to discuss them with a number of stakeholders in the last few days. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that there is concern among many stakeholders about the level at which the criteria are set. This is reflected in the amendment in her name and those of the noble Lord, Lord Low, and my noble friend Lord Touhig. However, we must also take account of the points raised by my noble friends Lord Warner and Lord Lipsey because this is, in the end, an issue of funding. I hope that, when she winds up, the noble Baroness will address the issue of affordability. This may be a technical point, but this might be a matter of supply, since the Commons might well assert their own position in this regard. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, will, no doubt, advise us on that matter.
The guidance is very important and my noble friend Lord Warner said that it was a good first shot. I agree with him and it is certainly something to work on. However, could it warrant more parliamentary scrutiny than is normally given to regulations? We usually have a debate of about one hour; the conventions allow us to defeat a statutory instrument on very few occasions, and there is no opportunity to amend those regulations. We have benefited enormously from having a Joint Select Committee to advise us on the draft Bill: might it be right to have a similar process in relation to the regulations? I hope the noble Earl might be sympathetic to my Amendment 88T, which asks for a joint parliamentary committee process to look at the regulations before they are laid before Parliament.
Finally, I would ask the Minister to focus on the points raised by my noble friend Lord Lipsey. If we go towards national eligibility criteria, which we all support, can we be assured that there will then be a consistency between local authorities in their application and within local authorities? My noble friend is right to suggest that, even if you are covered by one local authority, how you are assessed and what support you get can sometimes be like pot-luck.
We will come later to the consequences of the introduction of Dilnot and the cap. I am concerned about the capacity of local authorities to deal with all the responsibilities being placed on them, not just in terms of funding services and support, but the capacity to carry out the assessments required by this legislation. We will talk later about the impact of self-funders. On commencement day, we can have hundreds of thousands of people needing to be assessed in order to make sure the clock starts towards the £72,000 cap. Alongside that, all the other assessments that are covered by this legislation will need to take place. There is a real worry that local authorities do not have the capacity to do this. I am always tempted to talk about the problems of the Child Support Agency, but when you have a commencement date there is a risk that many more people become eligible to be assessed at that point. There is a real risk that local authorities will not be able to meet the demands placed on them. This is why my noble friend Lord Lipsey is right to raise the issue of consistency of approach and capacity in assessment against the national eligibility criteria which will have to be undertaken by individual local authorities.