Clause 19

Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 13 July 2006.

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Controlled activity relating to vulnerable adults

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

I beg to move amendment No. 142, in clause 19, page 12, line 10, after ‘health’ insert ‘or personal’.

Photo of Eric Martlew Eric Martlew Labour, Carlisle

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 143, in clause 19, page 12, line 32, at end insert—

‘(g) an independent health provider;’.

Government amendments Nos. 159 to 161.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

These are, again, probing amendments, but I hope that we will not have to probe for quite so long this time before we establish whether they are required. Amendment No. 142 concerns people who have the “opportunity to have access” to the health records of a vulnerable adult. The measure should not be limited to health records because, after all, what constitutes a health record? Does it cover only information that is provided by a GP or specialist? What about forms of counselling that do not, strictly speaking, constitute medical or health treatment? What about other records containing detailed information about a vulnerable person’s family background, or traumatic events that have happened to them, such as domestic sexual abuse?

A paedophile could use records of a vulnerable person’s past traumatic experiences or difficult domestic time as a child to exploit a chink in their armour and ingratiate himself or herself with that vulnerable person. Those are not health records, but if people can gain access to those sorts of records, which I have termed as “personal”, surely they too should be included. I believe that “health records” is too narrow a definition, and I would be grateful for the Minister’s response as to whether more extensive personal records could be just as useful, or even more useful, to a potential abuser who could use that information to abuse a vulnerable adult.

The second amendment also concerns the definition of health. I know that the Minister will come straight back and tell me that it is not necessary because it is covered in whatever paragraph such definitions are covered. Hospital services are defined through six different categories: a national health service trust,an NHS foundation trust, a primary care trust, an independent hospital, an independent clinic and an independent medical agency. At least this part of the Bill has explicit references to the independent sectors, which is part of the point that I was getting at earlier. However, it refers only to establishments—in effect, a hospital, clinic or medical agency

“within the meaning of that section”,

which again is rather vague. Surely what should be covered is an independent health provider. It is the person who is going to do the damage if they are so minded, rather than the establishment in which they are contracted to work.

The amendment is designed to probe whether—perhaps this will be in schedule 3—all independent personnel are covered. We want to know that  independent personnel are not covered just by virtue of the fact that they are working in an independent hospital, an independent clinic or through an independent medical agency, because many such people will be working in the homes of vulnerable people. That is what we are getting at.

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health) (Care Services)

I will try to help the hon. Gentleman. He accepts, to some extent, that these are probing amendments. Controlled activity will include access to the health records of a vulnerable adult. Amendment No. 142 would add the words “or personal” after the word “health”. “Health records” is a clearly understood term and is intended to cover all records that relate to a person’s physical and mental condition. The amendment would extend that to other personal records.

I understand that the intention is to ensure that access to records of a similar level of sensitivity is included in controlled activity. The problem is that the additional words are wide and nebulous and might cover things, such as bank records, that we do not intend to catch.

That said, I will offer the hon. Gentleman some assurances on the regulation-making power in subsection (5)(c). That gives the Secretary of State the power to prescribe

“other information...relating to a vulnerable adult.”

We intend to use that power to prescribe clearly and accurately social care records relating to a vulnerable adult. Such records are clearly of a personal nature, but will be described in regulations so as to make them clearly identifiable. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that reassurance. We will use the power to be clear about what “other information” means.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

Would that include records of counselling? I gave the example of someone who has had a traumatic child abuse experience and has received counselling. Such a record is not a health record, but it is a record of some form of counselling. Is that specifically intended to be included in the prescription to which the Minister referred?

Photo of Ivan Lewis Ivan Lewis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health) (Care Services)

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that example would be covered in those circumstances. He makes a perfectly legitimate point. The situation that he describes would be incredibly sensitive.

Amendment No. 143 deals with independent health providers and those who are employed in those sectors. The amendment is genuinely unnecessary, as independent health providers are included in paragraphs (d), (e) and (f) of the list. Those providers are required to register with the Healthcare Commission pursuant to part 2 of the Care Standards Act 2000. That will include providers who contract with the NHS. Where the NHS contracts with providers outside the regulated sector—an example might be an acupuncturist—it will be possible to ensure that the appropriate checks are made through the contracts issued. The contract will provide an  opportunity for the commissioner to make it clear what checks are expected in the case of a provider outside the regulated sector.

Amendments Nos. 159 to 161 are minor and technical, making consequential amendments to adjust references in the Bill to national health service legislation to ensure that the references are consistent with those in the National Health Service (Consequential Provisions) Bill. On that basis, I hope that hon. Members will not press their amendments and that they will support the Government amendments.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

I am grateful for that clarification. It is as easy as that—I asked a specific question with the probing amendments and the Minister has been able to agree that the provision will cover counselling such as that in the example that I gave and that such scenarios will be included in the regulations to be issued by the Secretary of State. That is reassuring, and we therefore do not need to press amendment No. 142 to a vote. He has also explicitly referred me to definitions in another part of the Bill that make amendment No. 143 redundant. On that basis, and with delight, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 159, in clause 19, page 12, leave out lines 34 to 36 and insert—

‘(a) primary medical services or primary dental services provided under the National Health Service Act 2006 (“the NHS Act”) or the National Health Service (Wales) Act 2006 (“the NHS (Wales) Act”);

(b) general ophthalmic services provided under Part 6 of the NHS (Wales) Act;’.

No. 160, in clause 19, page 12, line 38, leave out ‘that Act’ and insert

‘the National Health Service Act 1977’.

No. 161, in clause 19, page 12, line 40, leave out from ‘section’ to end of line 42 and insert

‘126 or 127 of the NHS Act or section 80 or 81 of the NHS (Wales) Act, or local pharmaceutical services provided under section 134 of, or Schedule 12 to, the NHS Act or under section 92 of, or Schedule 7 to, the NHS (Wales) Act;’.—[Mr. Dhanda.]

Clause 19, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.