Schedule 5

Part of Health and Social Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:18 pm on 17th January 2008.

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Photo of Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (South West), The Minister of State, Department of Health 4:18 pm, 17th January 2008

May I begin with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth? There would be nothing to stop a self-funder in social care making a complaint to the Care Quality Commission if the registration requirements of the independent care home where they are resident are not being met. The Care Quality Commission could investigate that complain. What we are talking about is the investigatory role of the Care Quality Commission in taking on specific complaints.

On the point made by the hon. Member for Romsey, there is nothing to stop the Care Quality Commission analysing a pattern of complaints or having access to complaints so that it can detect patterns. It will be very important that the ombudsman works very closely with the Care Quality Commission if he or she identifies a pattern of complaints that is worthy of closer inspection and investigation. The dividing line that we are drawing is between a responsibility for ensuring quality and one for detecting patterns that might indicate that something more serious is going on. That would come under the remit of the Care Quality Commission. It will have to take on the role, which, as we have discussed, has been burdensome for the existing Healthcare Commission, of being the second-tier investigator for complaints.

I do not know if all hon. Members have had the chance to read the submission from Ann Abraham, the health care ombudsman. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Eddisbury for drawing attention to it, because Ann Abraham strongly supports what we are trying to do in this area. She thinks that it is very important that there is coherent coverage of both health and social care; effective handling at local level; a major cultural shift in the NHS from a defensive application of process to learning from complaints and a will to resolve them; and a simplified two-stage process. Both she and the Healthcare Commission have made it clear that they do not think that complaints handling is an appropriate role for any regulator.

Ann Abraham also made it clear that she has plans to ensure that her office is prepared to handle any increase, from April 2009. She recently restructured her office and is confident that it will be able to meet the forecast increases in any workload, and provide an efficient and effective response to demand. I do not  have the exact figures to hand, but I shall write to the hon. Member for Eddisbury with them. I stress again that although it will not be the role of the Care Quality Commission to intervene in individual cases, it will take account of concerns, complaints and allegations when determining whether services in the independent and public sectors are provided safely and are of appropriate quality.

On self-funders in the health care or local authority systems, we are still actively considering options available to them. The Under-Secretary of State for Health was right about this. We have only just finished the consultation on the complaints system and the Government will publish their response shortly. However, before addressing future changes, or new avenues available to self-funders, I should repeat what I have said to colleagues before, which is that self-funders can, of course, take their custom elsewhere. They can choose civil remedies through the courts and, as I just mentioned to my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth, they can complain to the PCTs or local authorities, from whom the provider is contracted, about their concerns, if they think that it has failed in its registration duties. I hope that, given those assurances, the hon. Member for Eddisbury is able to withdraw his amendment.