My Lords, it is not anticipated that there will be any substantial primary legislation on healthcare during this final Session of Parliament, but it is inevitable that your Lordships’ House will have to address issues with regard to healthcare, because the provision of effective health services is such an important responsibility of government, commanding such a substantial proportion of public expenditure and having such a profound impact on our fellow citizens.
I would like specifically to consider issues with regard not to primary or secondary legislation generated here in our own Parliament but the impact of ongoing directives and regulation from the European Union that affect the delivery of healthcare, and most importantly the potential consequences that might attend medical research of the proposed European data protection regulation, which has been considered by both the Commission and the European Parliament and will eventually, potentially in this Session, arrive for consideration in this Parliament. In so doing, I remind noble Lords of my interests as Professor of Surgery, University College London, chairman, University College London Partners Limited and UK Business Ambassador for Healthcare and Lifescience.
First, on the ongoing question of the European working time directive, in May 2010 the Government declared that they wished to renegotiate specific provisions of the directive affecting the training of certain groups of junior doctors and the provision of healthcare services more generally. Those in craft specialties such as mine who undergo training that is restricted by the working time directive are concerned that they will not develop the necessary skills and, indeed, judgment to serve as independent practitioners and consultant surgeons in the National Health Service. This issue must be addressed. The cost to the public purse of providing locums is estimated to be some £200 million a year to allow rotas to be developed covering the working time directive’s 48 hours provision. However, most worryingly, coroners are now starting to cite the working time directive in their narrative verdicts as a safety concern in the deaths of certain patients. Only last week, the newly appointed chief executive of the NHS, Simon Stevens, cited the working time directive as potentially contributing to the closure of local hospitals which are so vital in providing community services for the elderly who are subject to many chronic diseases. At what stage are Her Majesty’s Government’s negotiations with regard to the working time directive and do they anticipate that the issues will be resolved by the end of this Parliament?
A second important issue is that of ensuring that all doctors in this country practise to the same standard. During this Parliament the Government have achieved remarkable success in enabling the General Medical Council to undertake language testing of all doctors who wish to register and practise in this country, including those from the European Union. However, there is still a deficit in assessing the skills and competence of doctors from anywhere in the world, including the European Union, who wish to practise in this country. This is a vital issue. Those graduating from our medical schools have their curriculum assessed by the General Medical Council—I declare my interest as a member of the GMC—but also have their competence tested in examinations in which the General Medical Council has an interest. International medical graduates coming from abroad will undergo tests but those from Europe will not. Do Her Majesty’s Government propose to address that issue in the remainder of this Parliament?
Finally, the data protection regulation will have a very serious impact on the potential to undertake certain forms of vital medical research. The original regulation as drafted by the Commission was satisfactory but amendments to Articles 81 and 83 passed by the European Parliament will have a detrimental impact on large-scale studies such as the UK Biobank, genome mapping and cancer registries. This will have a devastating impact on the progress of medical research and on our ability to undertake large epidemiological studies and more detailed and specific specialist studies which will drive the field of personalised medicine in this country. If this regulation were to be transposed into UK legislation, it would have a detrimental impact on medical research in this country. I would like to ask the Minister what position the Government will take to ensure that this does not happen.