Clause 242

Health and Social Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:00 pm on 31st March 2011.

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Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Minister (Health) 1:00 pm, 31st March 2011

I beg to move amendment 652, in clause 242, page 200, line 41, leave out ‘such period’ and insert ‘a reasonable amount of time’.

I entirely take on board what you have said, Mr Hancock. I shall do my best to go as fast as I can, because I know that hon. Members want to raise a large number of points.

Amendment 652 relates to subsection (2), which requires that health and social care bodies comply with requests for information from the Information Centre in a manner and time period specified by it. The primary role of health and social care bodies must clearly be the provision of care to patients, and the amendment seeks assurance that health care professionals will be protected from unreasonable demands for information that take them away from their clinical duties and expect them to provide information within an unreasonable amount of time. This short, sharp amendment is straight to the point.

Photo of Paul Burstow Paul Burstow The Minister of State, Department of Health

I think I can offer the reassurance that the hon. Lady is seeking. The Information Centre is already under a general obligation to behave reasonably when discharging its functions, as are all public bodies. In addition, the Information Centre is required by clause 241 to consult representatives of those bodies from whom information will be collected. Clause 237 imposes a duty on the Information Centre to seek to minimise the burdens that it poses on others. For those reasons, I think that the issue of reasonableness is fully dealt with, and I hope that the hon. Lady will be able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Minister (Health)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: 683, in clause 242, page 201, line 3, leave out ‘health or social care bodies and other’.

Amendment 684, in clause 242, page 201, line 8, leave out ‘health or social care body’ and insert ‘person mentioned in subsection (1A)’.

Amendment 685, in clause 242, page 201, line 8, at end insert—

‘( ) The provision of information under this section—

(a) does not breach any obligation of confidence owed by the person providing it, but

(b) is subject to any express restriction on disclosure imposed by or under another Act (other than any restriction which allows disclosure if authorised by or under an Act).’.—(Paul Burstow.)

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Emily Thornberry Emily Thornberry Shadow Minister (Health)

We discussed earlier what this provision means and why there are powers to require and request information. It would seem that the Information Centre can require health and social care bodies to provide information, but it can only request that any other person should provide such information. What would happen if there were a health care body that was not an NHS body? Would the Information Centre have the power to require an independent, private care provider to provide information, or does it have power only over NHS bodies?

Photo of Paul Burstow Paul Burstow The Minister of State, Department of Health

The key test is whether a provider is providing NHS services. If it is providing such services, it is covered by the terms of the clause. It does not matter whether it is private, not-for-profit, a charity or a public body, such as a foundation trust. I hope that that answers the question.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Shadow Minister (Wales)

Further to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington South and Finsbury, I think that the Minister has explained that, in essence, the provision refers to any private body providing NHS services; I assume that that includes any body providing services to a GP consortium. It would therefore be designated a health or social care body—a public body—and would be obliged to provide the information.

How does that potentially conflict with the right that is enshrined—or at least implied—elsewhere in the Bill that a commercial operation may be able to withstand having to provide that information if it is deemed to be against the commercial or other interests of that private provider? Which duty is pre-eminent in that circumstance? Is there any circumstance in which the Minister can imagine a company that provided NHS services—it would therefore be obliged to provide information to the Information Centre—successfully arguing that to do so would be detrimental to their commercial interests? Would it be allowed to withhold the information?

Finally, if that danger exists, is there then a further, much larger danger? When we have an NHS with many more providers, which is a clear intention of the Bill, it might be more difficult for the NHS, as an aggregate, corporate entity, to get detailed information that is critical in judging whether it is performing well, and whether changes in policy might be required. Is there a  danger that in this new world, because so many commercial actors are involved, we might have less well sourced and fewer uniform, mineable data available to Ministers?

Photo of Paul Burstow Paul Burstow The Minister of State, Department of Health

I return to what I said to the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury. The first point is that where a provider—whether private, a charity or a public body—provides publicly funded services, it will be covered by this clause and the other clauses in this part of the Bill. The scenario that the hon. Gentleman described is important to test, but I can reassure him. As far as we were concerned when drafting the Bill, the clauses, and the powers they give to the Information Centre and other bodies, will enable us to ensure that there is consistency and the ability to compare information in the way that the hon. Gentleman fears we might not.

In addition to that, there is the contracting route, which would be available to reinforce that further, but we are confident that, as drafted, the clauses allow for those requirements to be placed on any provider funded by the taxpayer to provide free NHS care. We drafted the Bill to have that policy effect.

Also, to ensure that we can fulfil those information questions, Government amendments 683, 684 and 685, which I have just moved formally, clarify that the Information Centre will have powers to collect information from publicly funded private organisations providing health services or adult social care under arrangements with public bodies. For example, Monitor, as one of the bodies involved, could request information through the Information Centre in that way. Part of the issue is about having one organisation that is seen as the honest broker and the place where data are held, within a framework that guarantees patient confidentiality. That is the key guiding principle that we have followed in framing the provisions.

If, on reflection and having read Hansard, I feel that I have not covered every point that the hon. Gentleman has raised, I will be sure to write to him.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Shadow Minister (Wales)

I am grateful for that answer. However, it still seems to me that, as it relates to this discussion, clause 242 conflicts slightly with clause 243(1)(a), which essentially says that the information might not be provided if the Information Centre deemed it detrimental to the interests of the provider.

I still think that my question stands. If a commercial company, albeit one normally bound by the same rules in respect of providing services to the NHS, does not want to provide the information because it is damaging to its commercial interests—competition law will obviously apply here, so there will be a slightly different set of parameters—could it withhold that information?

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 242, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.