Professional Standards Authority — Question

– in the House of Lords at 11:23 am on 7th November 2013.

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Photo of Lord Taverne Lord Taverne Liberal Democrat 11:23 am, 7th November 2013

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to appoint a scientist to the Professional Standards Authority.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My Lords, the Government have no plans to change the membership of the council of the Professional Standards Authority. The authority is required under the Health and Social Care Act 2012 to set standards for organisations holding voluntary registers for health and social care occupations, and accredits those which meet these standards. It is not required to make a judgment on the beliefs and practices of individuals registered with the organisations that it accredits.

Photo of Lord Taverne Lord Taverne Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the Professional Standards Authority has recently approved the registration of the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council—which is known in scientific circles, quite justifiably, as Ofquack. It means, in effect, that craniosacral therapists, reflexologists and homeopaths can now claim to be covered by the same professional standards as doctors and nurses. In the past, the Department of Health has sometimes suggested that it will not take sides between evidence-based medicine, which is based on science, and complementary medicine, which is based on pseudo-science. Does the Minister not agree that the Department of Health should not be neutral between sense and nonsense?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My Lords, it is important to understand that the accreditation scheme that we are talking about does not endorse any particular therapy as effective, and that it makes clear that accreditation does not imply that it has. The principle remains that it is for individuals, in consultation with health practitioners, to decide which therapy is right for them. The scheme is not a form of regulation, nor is the PSA a regulator. It sets standards for organisations holding voluntary registers for health and social care occupations, and accredits those that meet the standards.

Photo of Baroness Pitkeathley Baroness Pitkeathley Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Professional Standards Authority, and I pay tribute to the skill and experience of my board. Does the Minister agree that as by next March more than 75 occupations and 100,000 practitioners will be covered by the accredited voluntary register scheme, the public are much better informed and better protected than they have ever been?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, and I pay tribute to her work as chair of the PSA. The benefits of accredited voluntary registration are clear. The point is to give the public, employers and commissioners choice to use people on a register that the authority has independently assessed and approved, and only those registers that the authority has accredited are allowed to use its kitemark.

Photo of Lord Willis of Knaresborough Lord Willis of Knaresborough Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the 2013 annual report of the Professional Standards Authority states that its third strategic objective is to:

“Enhance public confidence in unregulated health and care occupations”.

How many voluntary registers of healthcare support workers are now registered with the standards authority, how many individual staff do they cover and how can the public get access to them? How long does the

Minister expect it to take for all healthcare support workers to be registered, as the recent reports following the Mid Staffs inquiry suggested?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My Lords, the Francis recommendations made no reference to voluntary registers for healthcare support workers. The broad position is that the PSA has not received any applications from organisations holding voluntary registers for healthcare support workers, and therefore no voluntary registers for healthcare support workers have been approved. As accredited registers are voluntary, I am afraid that the Government are not in a position to predict how long it will take for all healthcare support workers to be registered.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Health), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, going back to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, is the Minister confident that every intervention by a doctor is actually based on robust clinical evidence?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, it is the responsibility of local NHS organisations to make decisions on the commissioning and funding of any healthcare treatments for patients, taking account of issues to do with safety, clinical and cost effectiveness and the availability of appropriate practitioners. However, it is interesting to note that there are a number of complementary and alternative therapies referenced in NICE guidance, and I would expect any self-respecting doctor to take account of those.

Photo of Lord Colwyn Lord Colwyn Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, can the Minister give us any news about the proposed accreditation of herbal practitioners?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My Lords, as my noble friend knows, this is a complex policy area. There have been delays to the Government’s original proposals around the regulation of herbal medicine practitioners. One of our main concerns here is to ensure safety for those who wish to use the products. Given that complexity, my honourable friend Dr Poulter announced his intention to set up a working group to consider matters relating to patient protection when using unlicensed manufactured herbal products. Officials are currently working through the details of that group, including its terms of reference.

Photo of Lord Laming Lord Laming Convenor of the Crossbench Peers

My Lords, will the Minister use his good offices to ensure that the Government continue to keep an open mind in respect of complementary medicines, and allow patients the greatest possible choice in these matters?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

Yes, my Lords. The Department of Health does not maintain a position on any particular complementary or alternative medicine treatment. It is for patients, in conjunction with their medical practitioner, to decide whether a treatment is appropriate for them.