This is a probing amendment. Clause 109 amends section 29 of the Health Care Professions Act 2002, extending section 29 of the Act to enable the CHRE to refer to the High Court cases relating to impairment of fitness to practise on grounds of ill health. That is in addition to its existing powers to refer cases relating to misconduct and professional competence.
I tabled the amendment because of concerns relating to the fact that, currently, health cases are generally private proceedings. I have concerns about sensitive details on an individual’s health eventually being made public in ways that might not be helpful to that individual. My concerns might be covered by clause 98(4)(d), but I am still not sure whether that is the case, despite some discussion about it this morning.
I hesitated slightly about drafting the amendment in this way, as I did not want to create a loophole whereby an individual who realised that they had done wrong could somehow try to present a case as a health case. An argument might be made for something to be heard by a health committee rather than a disciplinary committee. I was not sure how that might work in practice. Clearly, if that was a consequence of my amendment, it would be problematic, because we are trying to achieve greater openness about misdoings generally and it would be contrary to that spirit.
However, it would be helpful if the Minister could explain why it was thought necessary to widen the scope of CHRE referrals. Has he any examples of where the system has failed? Bearing in mind that the cases referred are those the CHRE believes too lenient, does he not have concerns that if the CHRE has got it wrong the personal details of people on whom a judgment has been made may be subjected to greater public view than necessary? Can the Minister clarify how many cases have been referred to the High Court to date by the CHRE and what proportion of them have been judged by the Court to be too lenient—in other words, where it has upheld the concerns of the CHRE to a certain extent?
I cannot give the hon. Lady the figures that she asks for but I shall endeavour to find them and let her have them. However, she accepts in her comments that there may be circumstances in which the physical or mental health of a health care practitioner may impact on their conduct or ability, and consequently have implications for the safety of their patients or the wider public. We believe therefore that the health committees of regulatory bodies have a role in ensuring patient and public safety in the same way as conduct and competence committees, because patient safety must be the priority.
However, we fully support the need to handle cases of ill health with sensitivity, as we discussed when we covered hearings in private. The need for better support and rehabilitation for professionals struggling with health problems was recognised in our White Paper, but whatever the cause of poor performance, patient safety must come first, and we are clear that professionals who pose a risk to patient safety must be identified and dealt with appropriately but sensitively.
I am still not entirely clear about the circumstances in which private details, such as mental health details, will be kept private. All the professions will be interested in greater clarity about how the provision will work in practice, because we are talking about somebody’s potential livelihood, and about cases in which people might get better. Mental health problems are rarely understood and are often viewed unsympathetically by those without expertise, and I do not want to be party to legislation that has the potential to lay details of somebody’s mental health problems open for all to see. At a later date, the person might fully recover, but that knowledge of their problem might prevent them from obtaining employment. I understand that it is a stigma problem, but it is essential that we get the balance right. However, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.