Examination of Witnesses

Part of Health and Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 9th September 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Ed Hammond:

The obvious mechanism is the Secretary of State’s power of intervention. It is all about that referral upwards really to the Secretary of State to act. Ideally, these kinds of things can and should be resolved through dialogue, because the Secretary of State can intervene only so much. One of my worries about the focus in certain elements of the Bill on the new and enhanced powers of the Secretary of State is that it sort of assumes that the Secretary of State will need to have fingers in lots of pies to be aware of where these issues are occurring across England, and be prepared to step in where they are happening, which requires the exercise of a significant watching brief across a wide range of areas in a way that does not currently happen.

Ideally, these kinds of things can and should be thrashed out by the people involved at local level. The Secretary of State can intervene but does that intervention persist if relationships have effectively broken down? What do you do then? You cannot run everything from Whitehall; there has to be some kind of mechanism to rebuild relationships and trust. One would hope that it would not get that bad, but I know of past tensions. There are divergent priorities between local authorities, NHS partners and other partners in respect of health and care issues. The logic of ICPs is that you are aligning those priorities better, but that is not guaranteed.

That is one of the reasons we consider that there should be a role sitting with local health scrutiny committees to escalate matters of particular concern to the Secretary of State, so there is not this assumption that the Secretary of State is exercising a continual watching brief over everything that is going on. There is that formal power of escalation from an external body holding the system to account that can, before that escalation, exert some kind of influence at local level to try to knock heads together and bring some form of agreement in place, so that you are not in a situation where you have a persistent assumption that Whitehall will need to step in in every case where these kinds of issues occur.