New Clause 8

Part of Health and Social Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 24th January 2008.

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Photo of Stephen O'Brien Stephen O'Brien Shadow Minister (Health) 3:30 pm, 24th January 2008

It does not matter how many times one does it; returning to a discussion of many days or weeks ago is the most challenging part of the procedure. At least we have reporters if I have got any of that wrong.

We have had an important discussion on public and patient involvement. That is something that is of great concern across the House and I do not intend to seek to embarrass or press in a partisan way. As hon. Members are aware, there is a proposal, which happens to come from the Opposition, to establish an organisation called HealthWatch. I have urged the Minister to look seriously and carefully at what my party proposes. We have worked very hard on this matter: we have discussed it with a lot of people and we have made a commitment to establish HealthWatch, a national consumer voice for patients and service users. Having had many discussions about local involvement networks with patients and public involvement throughout the Committee stage, we are very grateful, and I genuinely mean that, that the Minister has undertaken to look at the matter again. His commitment is welcome.

I will not unduly delay the Committee although we are not particularly rushed. New clause 8 seeks to establish HealthWatch as a committee of the CQC and makes provision as to its constitution. New clause 9 is established to

“further the interests of patients and the public in relation to the provision of health services in England.”

New clause 10 would require HealthWatch to ascertain:

“the state of public opinion about the manner in which health services in England are provided...views and experiences of patients in relation to the provision of health services in England; and...the views and experiences of patients in relation to the handling, by commissioners and providers of healthcare services, of complaints made to them by such patients.’.”

New clause 11 would establish HealthWatch as an “English network” for the purposes of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007. I do not know whether any members of this Committee served on the Public Bill Committee for that legislation, but I should have checked, given that there has been genuine interest from many hon. Members present. HealthWatch would use existing legislation to achieve the aim of having a national representative body for local involvement networks.

Contrary to the Minister’s assertion that our proposal is opposed to the bottom-up, organic approach—he will recall that discussion—LINKs would be the drivers. HealthWatch would give them the power to engage with policy at national level, which they are denied by the Government. That is the essential part. I am sure that Committee members will recall the importance of the old community health councils and the bed watch publication. That had a major impact on the way in which Governments thought about the patient experience, what needed to happen and priorities. Indeed, in their early years in office, one of the Labour Government’s priorities was capacity issues.

With the new clauses, we aim to deliver on our commitment to establish a national consumer voice for patients—HealthWatch—to provide them with support at a national level, to provide leadership to LINKs at a local level and to incorporate the functions of the independent complaints advisory services. That is very important. We have had many discussions on concerns about the capacity to process complaints, assuming the Bill becomes an Act, and the capacity of the complaints handling system. Today’s memorandum helped to put a little more flesh on the bones regarding complaints issues. That welcome and important document has been placed on the record as a memorandum.

HealthWatch would also make representations on the closure of NHS services, for example. We would have it make representations to the NHS board, and we have published a draft Bill on that, which we hope to have the opportunity to introduce. Subject to consultation, HealthWatch would have statutory rights over nationally issued guidelines on the care that NHS patients should receive and on decisions that affect how NHS care is provided in an area. I urge the Minister to take our new clauses into account as he seeks a way forward for patient involvement in the CQC and our NHS.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) has promised to bring our proposals forward as part of our announced NHS Autonomy and Accountability Bill. I hope that this debate has sufficiently whetted the Minister’s appetite for that discussion and that he has no concerns about pride of authorship or the fact that the measures happen to have been proposed by us rather than his Government. It is undoubtedly the right way forward for our NHS. On that basis, I commend the new clauses to the Committee and very much hope that the Minister will regard them as a useful addition that will improve the Bill as we speed its passage through Parliament.