Report (2nd Day)

Part of Care Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 14th October 2013.

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Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 5:00 pm, 14th October 2013

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for expressing their views on this important subject so eloquently. As I said in Committee, I support the intentions behind the amendment tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Warner and Lord Patel. In looking at the amendment, the first essential question is whether we need to take legal powers in this Bill to fulfil those objectives.

I want to assure noble Lords that we already have the necessary legal powers to implement both choice in end-of-life care and a new palliative care funding system. In relation to choice, there is already a power in Section 6E of the National Health Service Act 2006 to make regulations, or standing rules, to require NHS England and clinical commissioning groups to make arrangements for patient choice in respect of specified treatments or services. We would use these powers to implement a choice offer in end-of-life care.

As noble Lords know, making the changes to the system required to offer real choice, which includes enhancements in community palliative care services, will not be straightforward. Not least of the issues is the cost of making these changes. I agree with noble Lords that there is the potential for savings to be made in moving these services out of hospitals and into the community. However, one of the most comprehensive studies in this area, the Cochrane review found that while there were small but significant improvements from community-based palliative care, the evidence for its cost-effectiveness was inconclusive.

We must also guard against the danger of making changes too quickly, and I am thinking of a particular danger. It would be in no one’s interests if the upfront investment required to enhance community services came at the expense of existing services. That is why the Department of Health and NHS England will be working together, and with organisations from across the end-of-life and palliative care sector, on a review of the timescale for introducing this choice offer at a time that will be right for patients and for those in the NHS working in this vital area. We have to ensure that when a choice offer is introduced, it will be a real choice backed by a system that is able to deliver it.

On palliative care funding, as I stated earlier, the Government’s position remains that there is much merit in providing free health and social care in a fully integrated service at the end of life. One of the key conclusions of the Palliative Care Funding Review was:

“There is a stunning lack of good data surrounding costs for palliative care in England”.

We responded to that by establishing eight palliative care funding pilots, involving more than 80 organisations. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, asked me whether those pilots were essentially big enough to produce meaningful results. The palliative care pilots cover 80 organisations in those eight areas and we are confident that they will give us sufficient evidence to design a new palliative care funding system. We need to be absolutely sure that the evidence being gathered by the pilots, which are running for two years, until 2014, is thoroughly analysed and a complete picture is available to both the department and NHS England before the details of the new funding system are finalised. To answer the noble Lord, Lord Patel, yes, we are acutely aware of the benefits of introducing a new system in this important area.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, asked about the pilots. The Public Health England review that is taking place welcomed the work that is going on. NHS England is also looking at this, in conjunction with its review of the end-of-life strategy. As regards the timetable for that, NHS England is working to publish early in the new year. Supported by the data from the pilots, we aim to have a new funding system in place by 2015, a year sooner than the review proposed. Similar to any new policies on choice in end-of-life care, this can also be introduced through secondary legislation. In this case, Clause 14(6) of the Bill provides powers to make regulations that prohibit local authorities from making charges in specific cases.

I hope I have convinced noble Lords that I am very much behind their laudable aims in tabling this amendment and I completely understand their desire for us to do the right thing. I am grateful for the opportunity to set out on the Floor of the House the Government’s commitment to delivering solutions in relation to end-of-life care. But I hope I have also persuaded noble Lords that decisions on end-of-life care funding and on choice of place of death cannot be taken lightly or inadvisedly, and that we must first take account of the evidence and implications.

I am doubtful that I will be able to say anything further on these subjects at Third Reading beyond what I have said today, but I would of course be more than happy to meet with the noble Lords, Lord Warner and Lord Patel, and other noble Lords, after Report to explore the practicalities around all these issues, and indeed some of the very pertinent issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. I hope that for now noble Lords are assured that our plans for quality and choice in end-of-life care will deliver improvements, and that they feel sufficiently assured to withdraw their amendment.

Amendment 57 agreed.