Clause 35

Health and Social Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee on 17th January 2008.

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Bodies required to be notified of certain matters

Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Shadow Minister (Health) 1:00 pm, 17th January 2008

I beg to move amendment No. 233, in clause 35, page 17, line 38, at end insert—

‘(ba) to the relevant professional regulatory body’.

We are making reasonable progress, but I will try to be brief because we are all keen to get as far as possible next week. Amendment No. 27 introduced an important point of principle, but amendment No. 233 raises an important point of practicality. I hope that the Minister will not use the same arguments against the amendment, unless, of course, he decides to accept it, because it is not about being prescriptive—an issue on which he has commented on various occasions.

The amendment is important in a practical way for two reasons. In layman’s terms—an always useful method of explaining the impact of a Bill—one major effect would be a new, clearer regulatory system for health and social care, with some redefined and refocused responsibilities. Clearly, an important part of that is professional regulatory bodies, most of which support the new and refocused role that they will have. If we are to have a new, joined-up framework, which makes sense for the reasons stated earlier, surely we must include the professional regulatory bodies when a commission issues a notice—be that a notice of decisions or proposals, a warning notice or a notice of procedure for suspension. I appreciate the Minister’s comments about not wanting to be prescriptive, but professional regulatory bodies should be among the organisations that must be informed of such notices if this is to be a genuinely joined-up and effective system. We all know from other areas—from the Shipman case—that when we do not have properly joined-up systems and effective sharing of information, that can lead to issues and problems.

The second reason concerns a potential loophole that I would like the Minister’s views on. Is there not a danger that when an individual who has been issued with a suspension notice moves to a different area, they could slip through the net if the professional regulatory body with an important role in that area is not involved?

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Shadow Minister, Health

I am reminded of a number of practical examples, including one in my constituency whereby a nursing home owner sacked a  nurse because of abuse. He took the matter seriously, but we can envisage a case in which an inspector might highlight problems of abuse needing some sort of investigation. In the case to which I refer, the nurse was allowed to enrol with various agencies and work in the next county, and there was absolutely no way of tracking what she was doing. She was later, quite rightly, removed from the professional register.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Labour, Lanark and Hamilton East

Order. I remind the hon. Lady that this is an intervention.

Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Shadow Minister (Health)

My hon. Friend makes a useful point demonstrating a potential practical example, which is what I am trying to get across. I hope that the Minister understands that practical point and the need for a properly joined-up framework. We would be delighted if he accepted the amendment. One could say that it is absolutely belt and braces, but given that there are still concerns about the regulatory framework for health and for social care, as the Minister has acknowledged, surely it would make sense to include the professional regulatory organisations in this part of the Bill. I look forward to the Minister’s comments.

Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Minister (Health)

I consider the proposal perfectly sensible and I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (South West), The Minister of State, Department of Health

The reason why we must resist the amendment is not that it is prescriptive; rather, it is a question of degree. As members of the Committee will have noticed, the commission is required to give notice of action to any people whom it considers appropriate. We would expect that in most circumstances, that would include the relevant regulatory body, but we believe that it is better for that to depend on the particular circumstances, rather than there being a blanket requirement. For example, if a registered manager had received a warning notice for a minor breach that had then been properly corrected, the commission might consider it appropriate, or disproportionate, to have to inform the manager’s regulatory body.

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Shadow Minister, Health

I take the Minister’s point about a minor breach about which it may not seem necessary to inform the regulatory body. However, there are cases where a series of minor breaches might flag up a problem, and surely the professional regulatory body is the ideal place to collate that information. People do not know where to complain when there is a problem. Shipman was a classic example—there were different areas in which concerns had been raised. There needs to be some way of bringing that information together in one place.

Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (South West), The Minister of State, Department of Health

I accept that, but I still think it best that the Care Quality Commission be left to use its judgment. If there were a succession of breaches, that would clearly ring alarm bells. If we are talking about a relatively minor breach of a registration requirement that had been quickly addressed, it seems unnecessary to put the Care Quality Commission under an  obligation. Indeed, there may be some people—care home managers, for example—for whom there is no professional regulatory body. Putting that requirement in the Bill is probably not the best way to achieve the end that I think we all share: that the professional regulatory bodies, where they exist, be informed when they need to be.

Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Shadow Minister (Health)

I appreciate that the Minister did at least come back with different arguments in resisting the amendment. I have a couple of brief points to make. Following those comments I am going to withdraw the amendment, but this is an important issue, which the Minister acknowledged. We should be mindful of this issue during the Bill’s passage and when the new regulatory framework comes into force, and we may need to revisit it in future, with the input of the Care Quality Commission and the professional regulatory bodies. It is better to be safe than sorry, and that is a clear principle, even if that means that minor incidents should be reported. My hon. Friend the Member for Romsey made a valuable point: where there is a series of minor incidents that might be missed, the amendment would increase the clarity of the framework, which is essential to the Bill. It would also provide a safeguard, which is why we tabled it. However, I appreciate the fact that the Minister has listened, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 35 ordered to stand part of the Bill.