We will now hear from Eluned Morgan, who is the Minister for Health and Social Services in the Welsh Government. I hope that I have pronounced your name properly. We will also hear from Lyn Summers, head of health and social services central legislation team, and Mari Williams, senior lawyer (health)—both from the Welsh Government. All witnesses are remote, and we have until 5.15 pm for the session.
Minister, would you outline your understanding of how the Bill will impact the people of Wales? I believe the areas to be the UK-wide medicines information system and social care discharge to assess measures, which may well be relevant in border areas, but there may be other pointsQ .
Thank you very much for inviting me to give evidence this afternoon. Obviously the Bill mainly relates to England, but I want to say that I understand what the Bill is trying to do and achieve and I am pleased that it represents some moves towards removing market competition from health and care. I am very pleased to say that we have never had that in Wales because we have our system of unitary health authorities.
There are a number of areas of the Bill that impact Wales. I have set out the significant concerns I have in a letter to Minister Argar. I would be very pleased to present the letter if that is helpful to the Committee. To summarise that letter, there are nine areas of the Bill that I think require the legislative consent of the Senedd. I have set out these areas in a legislative consent memorandum, which has been laid before the Senedd. We are currently in a disagreement with the Department of Health and Social Care UK regarding some of the clauses that the Welsh Government consider to fall into the areas that require the legislative consent of the Senedd. There are a few where we both agree that legislative consent is needed.
In response to your question, Dr Davies, the aspects of the Bill will impact Wales are special health authorities; accounts and auditing; clause 78 on hospital patients with care and support needs—that is the one you referred to, I think, with the border issue; clause 85 on a UK-wide medicine information system; clauses 86 to 92 on transfer of functions between arm’s length bodies; clause 120 on international healthcare agreements; clause 123 on regulation of healthcare and associated professions; and clause 127 on food information for consumers. We consider clause 125 on advertising of less healthy food and drink an important point for us. Clause 130 is also really important to us. The power to make consequential provision also falls within the legislative competence of the Senedd. I think that is something that is worth looking at. I am happy to go through some of the detail on those if that would be helpful to you. Should I continue with that, Dr Davies?
Interesting. We do not necessarily have an issue with the policy of some of them, but we are very concerned with some aspects of the constitutional shift and power grab that is happening here from the UK Government’s point of view. For example, the provision on arm’s length bodies is going to impact Wales in several ways. The UK Government are suggesting a requirement to consult the devolved Administrations before those powers are exercised. Frankly, that is just not good enough, because that memorandum of understanding, which the UK Government offered to present to alleviate some of our concerns, is a passing thing. It cannot be enforced by law and it does not bind future Governments, so we are very keen to see all the areas that impinge on our powers move from a duty to consult to a duty to get the support of the Senedd. There is a fundamental shift that we would like to see because we feel that our powers are impinged on.
The other point, which is quite interesting in the context of what is happening with Brexit, is that a number of clauses contain powers that enable the UK Secretary of State to make consequential amendments to provisions in a Senedd law. That is absolutely constitutionally unacceptable. It is fascinating when you think that part of the reason for the UK leaving the EU was to remove an outside institution’s ability to legislate in relation to the UK, yet the irony seems to be completely lost on the UK Government when the same consideration is not applied to legislation in the devolved Administrations in areas where it is absolutely clear where the power should lie. Those are the two fundamental issues that I am concerned about.
Q Thank you very much. Minister, we met recently about the NHS in north Wales and you very kindly sent a detailed response. I am very appreciative of that. One of the things we discussed was interoperability —the fact that the health service in a lot of Wales interacts with that in neighbouring parts of England. We have talked today about data sharing in general, and I wonder what your thoughts are about the importance of comparable and interoperable data between England and Wales.
There is clearly merit in having a system where data can be shared. We do not have a fundamental objection in principle to that and we would be very keen to set up systems that can speak to each other. I guess our objection would be where we are forced to share information that we do not necessarily feel should be shared. Why is that information needed and for what purposes? We would have to be very clear on that. It is not an objection in principle. In our discussion, I was very clear that I think it makes perfect sense for us to get those systems to be able to speak to each other. Again, it is more about the constitutional issues that have been thrown up and the UK Government’s ability to work in our NHS system and to gain information that is not theirs to have. If we want to give it, we are more than willing to do that.
Q The bulk of the Bill is about us in England looking at integrated care systems. Obviously, you operate according to a unitary provision already. I am not sure who is best placed to answer this question, but could you share with us any evidence, which might help inform our deliberations as we move to a different system, that the unitary integrated system provides better patient outcomes?
We are all very aware that the care system is under incredible pressure at the moment. In Wales, we have been able to introduce new systems through legislation that give our health services the power to co-operate and work, within a legal framework, with the care services and local authorities. That has made a significant difference already. We have a long way to go, and this is only the beginning of the process, but that is an example of where a close working relationship, and providing the framework that allows that to happen, is working well. It needs to go a lot further, though.
Q Obviously, as a Scottish MP, I echo the same concerns from the Scottish Government about these areas. Although it is largely billed as legislation for England, quite a lot of clauses extend further, yet there is often no mention even of consultation, let alone of consent. Certainly, one matter than concerns me is medical information, so what consultation did the Welsh Government have? Unlike Scotland, Wales is mentioned in the extent of the Bill, so how early were the Welsh Government consulted when it was being put together before its launch at the end of July, which is pretty much when the Scottish Government got to see it?
To be fair, my officials have had regular meetings with the Bill and policy teams, and I have met once with Minister Argar to discuss the Bill. However, I am afraid that that did not lead to our key concerns being addressed before the Bill’s introduction.
I concur with you that we were really disappointed at the lateness of the notification of this Bill, and the absence of engagement with the Welsh Government in terms of the practicalities of the outcomes of discussions. For example, we received sight of the White Paper statement on the Bill only on the afternoon before it was published. We had sight of all the Bill’s clauses only the day before introduction. With the best will in the world, we have some brilliant officials in the Welsh Government, but even they cannot work at that supersonic speed. We did not have the opportunity to look at all the final clauses and to respond to them before the Bill was introduced.
The point is that if the UK Government are serious about saying that we will be consulted, this is not a good model for them to show us that we have been consulted. Their stated aim was, “In your areas, where the power is rightly yours, you will be consulted.” If this is the model that they are going to use, we are in for a really tough time. That is why I would concur with you that the real issue is that we want consent on areas that are rightfully and constitutionally ours.
Q We obviously heard in the Prime Minister’s statement today talk about spending directly in health and social care despite its being devolved.
May I ask you a short, specific question? The healthcare services safety investigation body is England-only at the moment, but it is described that investigations could be requested in Welsh cases due to people coming over the border. Is that something that the Welsh Government are considering? At what level would such a decision be made? Would that be a local request, or would it go up through your central structures?
Lyn or Mari may want to come in here. The key thing to remember—Dr James Davies will be aware of this—is that a huge amount of cross-border working happens between Wales and England, so it is important that we understand each system. I do not think that we would have an objection in principle to working in the way that you suggest, but where, for example, there is a body that is “England and Wales”, it is rightly written in our legislation that we cannot be told what to do. It is not about the policy itself. For example, if there is an auditing issue, we will not go to war or have a fight about how something is audited; it is the process that we are concerned with. It is not that we would object, but it is rightfully in our power to determine whether we want to do something.
Q And that would apply also to things like sharing patient information of a certain type, and whether it was anonymised or pseudo-anonymised and so on? That would be a concern for you?
Q That is helpful, thanks. To change tack slightly, in 2016 the Welsh Government brought in legislation around safe staffing levels. Are you able to talk us through that and say, five years on, what impact that has had?
This is in relation to nursing. We have a law on safe staffing levels in nursing. Not only has it been implemented, but it has been extended since we brought in that Bill. It is something that the Royal College of Nursing is hugely appreciative of, and something that we are keeping an eye on. It has made a difference to patient safety, and we in the Welsh Government take it very seriously.
Q Good afternoon, Minister and colleagues. Thank you for your evidence and answers so far. By my reckoning, of the nine issues on which we had a discussion, we reached an agreement on seven. I think there are two outstanding, which are the ones you have highlighted in your evidence. I owe you an answer to your letter, but I think we are meeting shortly to further discuss that.
I want to pick up on something that colleagues have touched on and which you have highlighted around the model of integration in Wales—the unitary model, for want of a better way of putting it. I acknowledge that you said it was early days, but I would like to get a sense of how you feel that model is delivering a national system but allowing local flexibility, and of the extent to which it is delivering, even in its early days, improved health outcomes for patients in Wales. As we look at ICSs and closer working between local authorities and the NHS in England, it may be instructive for us to learn from your experience, even if it is not a direct parallel, and from what you are seeing, even in these early days.
We had a parliamentary review that looked at our NHS and care system, and went into a lot of detail about what we could change. A lot of it was about the need to integrate—[Inaudible.] What we have done as a result is take an interim step towards better integration. We not only set up the legislative framework for that, but put significant funding into driving these health and care systems to work together. We had an integrated care fund and a transformation fund. We found that both the health service and the care service really liked the new approach. They really have engaged. We have kind of allowed a thousand flowers to bloom here, and there have been some really innovative ideas and work. How do we get people out of hospital quicker? How do we drive that change? There have been some great examples.
What we are still struggling with, if I am honest, is that we are still finding difficulty getting both the health service and the care service to understand that what they have changed and what works well now needs to be mainstreamed. There cannot be additional funding forever. The purpose of that additional funding was to give the confidence to do it in the mainstream. We are finding that they have pocketed that money, saying, “This is great. Can we have more, please?” We have tried to make it clear to them that that was never the idea. The idea was for them to have that transformation funding to drive change.
That is our next challenge, and that is what we are working on now, but there are ways of doing that. Clearly, this is a difficult time to be doing it, but some health boards are frankly being driven into closer working relationships, because there are so many examples of delayed transfer of care given the infrastructure at the local government level. Do not forget that in Wales we have not seen anything like the cuts that have happened in England, but even we are feeling the pressure in quite a significant way, and we are having some real issues in relation to recruitment to the care workforce in particular. That is the biggest challenge for us at the moment.
Q That is really helpful, thank you. As ever, I am grateful for your candour, because that will help us to learn from your experience. I am always frank with colleagues about the fact that we will look around to see whether we can learn from Cardiff, Edinburgh or Belfast. That is what we should be in the business of doing. You mentioned using transformation funding to allow local flowers to bloom. That goes to the heart of something we have discussed in a number of sessions today. To what extent, in how you are approaching this greater integration or joint working, have you adopted either a permissive or a prescriptive approach? How have you sought to balance those two ways of doing things to get the best outcome?
It has been quite interesting. With care, for example, we have found that a lot of competition was going, such as between the independent care providers and the local authority—they were poaching from each other. All of that was damaging to the public purse and to the provision that we could give. Now we are in the process of developing an all-Wales framework within which people who want to provide care in Wales will work. That is what we are working on—a new legislative framework that will provide the infrastructure and give the minimal standards that they will have to meet. It is also making sure that we are driving quality through the system.
Q I am conscious of time, but I have a final question that refers back to my first one. Do you have any evidence, whether anecdotal or that you will not share with the Committee, on how the approach is improving or changing health outcomes for NHS patients in Wales, quantitatively or qualitatively? What benefits are you seeing? Is there any evidence behind that? That is something we have explored with other witnesses—how ICSs will seek to do that—but given that you have started down this road already, is there anything you can share?
What is difficult is that we started this process pre-pandemic but, clearly, with the pandemic we are in a very different situation. It is difficult to say what the model would look like in normal times, because we have had 18 months of something very different. It is hard for us to assess that evidence in the light of our circumstances at the moment, if I am honest.
HCB01 Michael Vidal
HCB02 Marie Curie
HCB03 Health Care Professionals Council
HCB04 Health Devolution Commission
HCB05 Health Devolution Commission
HCB06 Health Devolution Commission
HCB07 Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
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HCB09 Gwyneth Clapham
HCB10 Fluoride Action Network
HCB11 Centre For Mental Health
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HCB13 Marcus Chown
HCB14 Royal College of Midwives
HCB15 Age UK
HCB16 The King’s Fund
HCB17 Susan Ghany
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HCB19 Association of Dental Groups (ADG)
HCB20 Diabetes UK
HCB22 British Red Cross
HCB23 British Dental Association
HCB24 Royal British Legion
HCB25 Sabine Hirst
HCB26 John Puntis, co-chair of Keep Our NHS Public
HCB27 Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID)
HCB28 NHS Confederation
HCB29 Royal Pharmaceutical Society
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HCB31 Carers UK
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HCB33 Mental Health Foundation
HCB34 Paula Riseborough
HCB35 Association of Anaesthetists
HCB36 Virgin Care
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HCB39 Professor Allyson Pollock and Peter Roderick, Population Health Sciences Institute, Faculty of Medical Sciences, Newcastle University
HCB39a Professor Allyson Pollock and Peter Roderick: Attachment of Powerpoint slides containing screenshots of section 3(1) of the NHS Acts since 1946, and Clause 15 of the Bill
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