Clause 40 - Quality in health care

Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 4th June 2003.

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Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon 3:15 pm, 4th June 2003

I beg to move amendment No. 162, in

clause 40, page 14, line 12, leave out 'and'.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 163, in

clause 40, page 14, line 13, at end insert

'; and

(c) the promotion of wellbeing'.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon

The two amendments, effectively, are one. The first would omit the word ''and'' between the

two existing definitions. The second, which is the more substantive, would add ''the promotion of wellbeing'' to the existing definition, which states:

''(a) services provided to individuals for or in connection with the prevention, diagnosis or treatment of illness; and

(b) the promotion and protection of public health.''

My argument is that the promotion of well-being for an individual is more than is already covered in subsection (2)(a) and (b). Paragraph (a) refers to

''the prevention, diagnosis or treatment of illness''

but that does not cover the promotion of well-being. The prevention of illness is part of the promotion of well-being, but not all of it. The World Health Organisation definition of health now extends to the concept of well-being. I would argue that health is not simply the absence of illness, particularly a medical model of illness; well-being and living healthily is more than just avoiding illness. It includes being able to make choices and to live as an autonomous individual. Indeed, there are big questions about how we safeguard the autonomy of individuals; that would not be covered by subsection (2)(a), but might be captured under the concept of the promotion of well-being. It is the job of NHS bodies to do that.

It might be argued that the concept of well-being is covered by the promotion and protection of public health, but I am not sure that that is so. What is meant by the promotion and protection of public health? It is better that I ask that now than in the clause stand part debate. I suspect that the promotion of public health relates to public health initiatives, which are important, but also to protecting public health from individuals, such as those with mental illness. Many of us would argue that the greatest threat to health from people with mental illness—especially those who are untreated—is to their own health rather than that of the public.

I accept that there is concern about the protection of the public, which is what subsection (2)(b) refers to. Public health initiatives on, for example, smoking cessation and the protection of the public and issues relating to the control of infectious diseases are also relevant. I do not disagree with anything in that subsection, but I question whether the wider duties that we want health care bodies to adopt would be better safeguarded if the Under-Secretary considered widening the definition.

I do not plan to spend a great deal of time discussing the concept of well-being. However, I shall give some examples of joint working. It has long been argued that NHS bodies need to work with other organisations in the public, private and voluntary sectors to secure the conditions associated with the prevention of illness and the promotion of well-being; for example, decent housing, a balanced diet, the right of children to a proper education and the right of families to live free from fear, whether it be from crime or impoverishment.

In a modern society, so much illness, and other demands on health care services, is caused by what is loosely described as stress from the factors that I have mentioned. That is one of the reasons why demand for health care is so much greater in areas of deprivation.

Some of the issues that I have raised contribute to a lack of well-being, subjectively and objectively measured.

When we define health care, it is important to stress the significance of looking holistically at it. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will be able to say that some of the new concepts relating to preservation of equity and tackling inequalities in health care are specifically provided for in the Bill. Given the background of the Under-Secretary and his constituency, I should hate a Bill to be passed without us making some attempt to check that the Government are looking for every opportunity to reduce health inequalities in communities that are deprived and do not have the same sense of well-being as other communities. We must take such opportunities to improve legislation.

The Under-Secretary will say that we are talking about an existing definition taken from previous Acts. I ask him to open his mind to the idea of developing new definitions to allow us to keep up with other countries and supranational organisations that have wider definitions. That is not just to deal with low-level issues. I am talking about a major factor in why there are such huge demands on the health service, even in the absence of what can objectively be measured as greater indices of actual disease. One problem with which we are struggling is that as we get better off and, arguably, less ill in terms of preventable illness, it does not seem to be having much impact on the demands for health care. I suspect that that is partly about feelings of stress and lack of well-being.

To conclude, the definition would focus the minds of those bodies that are due to be inspected against that quality standard on their duties to work closely with public authorities and voluntary sector organisations that are concerned with promoting well-being.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 3:30 pm, 4th June 2003

I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon, and I have a lot of sympathy with the thrust of the points that he made. He is trying to push further forward efforts to improve the nation's health, which he describes in amendment No. 163 as ''wellbeing''. However, I am not persuaded that he is offering anything new in relation to the Bill.

I imagine that clause 40(2)(a) and (b) constitute a fairly wide, catch-all definition across the whole area of illness prevention and health promotion. Subsection (2)(b) deals with

''the promotion and protection of public health.''

That covers a vast area in seeking to enhance the nation's health. The hon. Gentleman may say that it is a belt-and-braces operation, but it looks like overkill, because the point that he makes seems—I certainly do not want to be the Under-Secretary's spokesman—to be already covered in the Bill. I am not persuaded that it is necessary to make the amendments basically to flannel out this aspect of the legislation.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health)

The hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) has more or less made the points that I wanted to make. The intentions of the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon are honourable, and the Committee would agree with them, but the word ''wellbeing'' would add nothing to the duty of quality under clause 40. That amends the current duty of quality in section 18 of the Health Act 1999 to include a duty on all NHS bodies to ensure that appropriate arrangements are put in place to monitor and improve the quality of health care that they provide or obtain. Clause 118 allows CHAI and CSCI to assist any other public body in its work, which would include the Health Protection Agency.

I commend the intention behind the amendment, but for the reasons that I and, indeed, the hon. Member for West Chelmsford have outlined, I hope that the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon will see fit to withdraw it.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Liberal Democrat, Oxford West and Abingdon

I thank the Minister and, in the spirit of charity, his able assistant, the hon. Member for West Chelmsford—who speaks for the Conservatives!—for their constructive comments. I am glad that the Minister understood the motives behind the amendment. I listened carefully to what he said and, in light of that, I am more than happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 40 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Peter Atkinson Peter Atkinson Conservative, Hexham

Before we move to clause 41, I have a quick housekeeping point. If there is a Division in the Chamber, I will suspend the Committee for 15 minutes. If there are two Divisions, I will adjourn the Committee for 30 minutes, and so on.Clause 41 Standards set by Secretary of State