With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
“(1A) In making a decision about the exercise of its functions, the health and well-being of the people of England must be NHS England’s primary consideration.”
This amendment would assert that duties to patients come above any other (e.g. organisational) considerations.
Amendment 23, in clause 19, page 18, line 13, at end insert—
“(d) health inequalities.”
This amendment would modify the triple aim explicitly to require integrated care boards to take account of health inequalities when making decisions.
Amendment 24, in clause 19, page 18, line 13, at end insert—
“(1A) In making a decision about the exercise of its functions, the health and well-being of the people it serves must be the primary consideration of an integrated care board.”
This amendment would assert that duties to patients come above any other (e.g. organisational) considerations.
Amendment 25, in clause 43, page 47, line 32, at end insert—
“(d) health inequalities.”
This amendment would modify the triple aim to explicitly require NHS trusts to take account of health inequalities when making decisions.
Amendment 26, in clause 43, page 47, line 32, at end insert—
“(1A) In making a decision about the exercise of its functions, the health and well-being of the people it serves must be the primary consideration of an NHS trust.”
This amendment would assert that duties to patients come above any other (e.g. organisational) considerations.
New clause 13—Secretary of State’s duty to set targets on population health and reduction of inequalities—
“(1) The Secretary of State must, at least every five years, publish a report setting targets on—
(a) the improvement of the physical and mental health of the population, and
(b) the reduction of health inequalities.
(2) The Secretary of State must publish an annual report recording progress against the targets in subsection (1).”
It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mrs Murray, and to make my first contribution to the proceedings. It will perhaps give my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston a chance to bask in his new-found responsibilities, while I pick up the cudgel with the Minister. I am afraid I do not have such luxury as he does.
This group of amendments relates to health inequalities and to the priority that we give to the health of the nation, rather than the structures that serve the health of the nation. I will go through each amendment in turn, but I want to talk about a couple of themes that cover them all.
I strongly believe that addressing health inequalities ought to be a foundational priority of any Government of the day. What could be crueller than having such a significant element of a person’s future—how long they will live, how long they will live in good health and what diseases they are likely to acquire—preordained at birth? That has always seemed cruel to me.
Government are not a passive part of that process. The decisions that are taken in this place play an active part in those inequalities. For example, the decisions taken later today and on universal credit will widen them. We should seek to use this Bill as a turning point in our battle against health inequalities in this country. This should be the Bill in which we say that the national health service, and those who need it locally, must be central to addressing health inequalities in this country and that the Government will resource them properly to do so.
It is not a moment too soon to do this. The legacy of this decade of austerity, which my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston talked about, is that for the first time in a century the increase in life expectancy has stalled. What does it say about us, the most technologically advanced generation in history, that the increase in life expectancy stalls on our watch?
Within that there is a yawning gap in healthy life expectancy between those who live in the best-off and the worst-off communities. On the basic life expectancy measure the gap is 10 years, but on healthy life expectancy, measured by the age at which people have their first disability, the gap is 18 years between communities like mine and the communities that are best off in this country. How sad that is; how sad is what it says about us.
As the 2020 Marmot review concluded,
“health is getting worse for people living in more deprived districts and regions, health inequalities are increasing and, for the population as a whole, health is declining…the country has been moving in the wrong direction.”
Again, we heard evidence about that in the evidence sessions of this Committee. We ought to use this Bill as a moment to do something about it.
These inequalities are not just about socioeconomic status; they are about race as well. Research by the King’s Fund shows that
“people from the Gypsy or Irish Traveller, Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities have the poorest health outcomes across a range of indicators.”
Covid has shone a light on both race and socioeconomic background as drivers of inequalities. We entered the pandemic thinking it would be a great leveller and that the virus would not know people’s postcode, job or ethnicity. Actually, we quickly learned that that was not the case and that someone was twice as likely to die from covid if they lived in the most deprived communities. A man from a black African background is nearly four times as likely to die of covid as I am. Those inequalities, and how they played out, whether in housing, in occupation or pre-existing health, offered a breeding ground for the virus. That is devastating for individuals, but it is worse for all of us, because it has spread and strengthened the virus. Those health inequalities are bad for everybody.
Just before I turn to my amendments, I should also say that it is strange, given that half of all health inequalities are driven by smoking, to see a Health and Care Bill that does not talk about smoking at all. I hope that when we get to part 5, where some of the public health elements are found, we might collectively do better there.
Amendment 21 seeks to address the point about inequalities by adding to the triple aim for NHS England as set out in clause 4. The triple aim for the national health service is a good thing. It shows the system and those who work in it and lead it, whatever their role, what we want them to prioritise. The three strands of that triple aim are noble: the health and wellbeing of the people of England, the quality of service provided and the efficiency and sustainability of resources. However, that is not robust enough to ensure not just due regard for health inequalities but strong action.
I will not prejudge what the Minister will say, but I suspect he may say that promoting the health and wellbeing of people in England is the aim that covers inequalities. That is an important pursuit, but it is not explicit enough. It is just about general improvement. For example, we hope the Government would expect to see a resumption in the increase in life expectancy. That would be a general improvement in the health and wellbeing of the people of England. The problem with that is that it would not address the point about healthy life expectancy. There would be general and maybe even aggregate improvements for possibly a great deal of the population, but not enough to deal with the extraordinary and growing gaps for others. I think we ought to want to do something about that.
Accepting the amendment would mean the Government would send a signal to NHS England that tackling health inequalities ought to be at the centre of its mission. A quadruple aim may not be as elegant as a triple aim, but it is important that tackling health inequalities is recognised in the Bill. I know that the Minister wants the legislation to stand the test of time. He suggested I said something from a sedentary position about multiple pieces of legislation, which I genuinely believe I did not, but we ought to say that we are here because the 2012 Act was so bad. That there have been nine years since that Act is not a strength on the Government’s part; it is a weakness that they have defended something that has not worked for a long period of time. If we want the Bill to stand the test of time, then we ought to say what we want the health service to do. By putting that in the Bill, we would do that.
Amendment 22 also addresses the triple aim and creates a hierarchy within. High-quality and sustainable services are important, but when commissioning decisions are being made at a national level, as happens with NHS England, and those decisions affect our constituents, we do not want equal weight being given to organisational considerations. The whole point of the Bill as explained on Second Reading is to move to an integrated system that is built around the health and care needs of the population, rather than around organisational boundaries. We all recognise where that butts up in our casework and the frustration that that causes for us and, more importantly, for our constituents—those who have to make multiple calls to arrange care for loved ones and so on. If that is our purpose here, we want health and wellbeing to come first. The amendment seeks to do that and says that the primary aim of the three is the health and wellbeing of the population. If that means that there is a knock-on effect on political decisions on funding, as discussed in the previous set of amendments, so be it. It will be for the Government of the day to ensure that NHS England has the resources to do that well.
I draw the Minister’s attention to the very recent precedent in the Medicines and Medical Devices Act 2021, the Bill Committee for which took place in this room or an identical one. I was a member of that Committee, as were the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds, who is not in her place at the moment, and the hon. Member for Erewash. When we discussed the triple aim of that Bill, I moved an amendment to prioritise patient safety over all other considerations, because I thought that was an uppermost consideration. It was originally rejected in Committee, but the Government brought it back in later stages, which was the right thing to do. Rather than waiting to bring this back later, we could address it today. I would be very interested to hear the Minister’s comments on that.
Amendment 23 is a counterpart to amendment 21, but it operates at local level. Whereas amendment 21 applied to NHS England, amendment 23 applies to local integrated care boards—to say that, as part of their responsibilities, they must take inequalities into account. Of course, all the arguments that I have made for NHS England also apply here, so I will not repeat them, but this is quite a profound case at local level. From the written evidence, the hearings and the contributions from hon. Members throughout the Bill’s stages and elsewhere in this place, we can see that there is considerable anxiety that we will end up devolving fixed financial settlements down to the integrated care system level. That suits Ministers, because it means that they can devolve financial responsibility so that the Treasury can know what it is spending on a certain function, but all the tough decisions that get us to that point have to be taken at local level. I do not think that is a dystopian scenario, because that is literally what we do with social care already in local government.
The Government know that they do not resource local authorities sufficiently. As a result, social care is squeezed. What happens in those circumstances is that the systems start to worry about running out of money. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire made a point about end-of-year capital that I recognise from my time in local government, but it works in reverse—when Christmas comes about, there is a spending freeze on everything, and the chief executive of every council in the country ends up reviewing every purchase of more than about a fiver. That is the reality for the systems, and local commissioners will be pressured to think in the interest of resourcing their system, rather than tackling health inequalities. That runs straight into the argument for amendment 24, which is a counterpart to amendment 22 and which says that the hierarchy within the triple aim ought to apply at an integrated care system footprint.
In paragraph 44 on page 18 of the explanatory notes, the Government have told us that the purpose of the triple aim duty is to
“require organisations to think about the interests of the wider system”.
I get that, but I do not think it is quite right, because the primary responsibility is to think about the interests of the wider population. It flows from there that the best way to address the health needs of the population is a system-based approach, which is the Minister’s central argument for this entire piece of legislation—so organisations have to think about each other. However, the primacy is the need of the population.
Perhaps the Minister will say it is axiomatic that health systems will prioritise the wellbeing of their community above everything else, but I do not think it is inconceivable at all that at some point in any given year—never mind at some point in the future—system leaders in one of those footprints will feel distressed about their finances and may take the wrong message, or perhaps the wrong bit of cover on a commissioning decision, about putting population wellbeing in the same tier as system sustainability, as if those two things could be co-equals and, if in tension, could be resolved either way. I do not think that is right, and I would be interested to hear the Minister’s view on that.
Amendment 25 requires health trusts to pay regard to “health inequalities”. Again, it is a counterpart to amendments 23 and 21, and it is for the same reasons as for NHS England and integrated care boards, so I will not repeat those arguments.
Amendment 26 is a counterpart to amendments 24 and 22, requiring the prioritisation of population health and wellbeing at trust level, for the same reasons that I have just mentioned. Again, I will not repeat those arguments.
I turn lastly to new clause 13. As I said at the start, the Bill should be a turning point for health inequalities, rather than being known as the legislation that knocked the 2012 Act into the bin or as essentially a commissioning restructure and organisation. It ought to be the legislation where we got serious about health inequalities in this country. To do that, we need to understand them better. To do that, the Government of the day need to be more accountable for them. To do that, crucially, we need to be more honest about what they are. Otherwise, we get stuck in the ping pong of statistics, which does not serve anybody.
The proposed new clause has that effect. It asks Ministers to look at and state the health of the nation, and to set targets to improve it. It is a modest ask; it asks the Government to do that only every five years. That again reflects the driving principle behind it and the action I would like to see as a result. It is not a short-term attempt to get some good headlines or avoid criticism. It is about meaningful, long-term change, very much in the spirit of the previous set of amendments. Think about what could be done: an attack on smoking and obesity; action to tackle the effect of alcohol and substance abuse. All of those are a problem in this country and we know we can do something about them.
The written evidence from Barnardo’s concluded that children growing up in England face some of the worst health outcomes in Europe, particularly those growing up in poverty. That should sadden us. It behoves us to be honest about it, set targets and attack it. The proposed new clause would set the right framework to compel Ministers to do that. Tackling inequalities ought to be at the heart of any Government. The proposed new clause and amendments would improve this Government’s approach and that of future Governments.
I rise to support these measures. The longer those of us who work in the NHS spend on the frontline, in particular as a breast cancer surgeon in a specialist area, the more we realise that we are constantly catching someone who falls, instead of building a handrail to stop them falling in the first place. Anyone who works in health or social care recognises that health inequalities are a major issue, going right back to the Marmot report of 2010, the Black report and, indeed, many decades. Therefore, they should be a priority at every single level.
The public have a real appetite to see a different approach after covid, because they are aware that covid was not a leveller. It absolutely hit the weakest, most vulnerable and poorest communities. To change the prioritisation to health and wellbeing is also critical. More money is spent picking up the pieces than investing in health in the first place. That is often the health of children; we should try to tackle child poverty and the issues that come from that.
I took part in a report in 2016 that heard from the UK Faculty of Public Health that the UK loses 1,400 children a year before the age of 15, as a direct result of poverty and deprivation. It is clear that the aim of the Bill is not just to take away the appalling section 75. It is to drive integration and the health of the local population. That should be set as a key priority, if the aim is to come out with an approach of putting health in all policies, within local government, the ICS boards and the NHS.
I concur with the comments of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North. The hon. Lady referenced the Black report, which first got me interested in working in the health service. I was shocked that, after all those years, the NHS had not improved the dreadful health inequalities that much of the population, including my own constituents, suffered. Here we are 40 years later, and we still have some really quite shocking health inequalities, even in the wealthy city of Bristol.
This is a really important point. We learned a lot in the pandemic, and hon. Members spoke about meeting their directors of public health recently. I have known my director of public health in Bristol for some 20 years because we have worked together over that period. I supported the movement of DPHs into local authorities. I think that was the right move, although the lack of funding that followed has made their job really difficult, and we have not made the improvements we should have made, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North outlined.
There is real enthusiasm among clinical and financial leaders for some of the movement in the Bill to bring organisations together in integrated care partnerships or ICSs—wherever we think the power will be—to look at population health. Financial directors I have talked to have said, “This is the direction we need to be going in. We need not to be looking just at our own institutions.” There is a will with the Government, but not including health inequalities is a major mistake. I appreciate that when they drafted this legislation, they were perhaps not thinking in that form, but a number of organisations have asked for that addition to be made.
The pandemic required us to talk closely to our clinical leaders, and it really educated people in individual specialties, who are not terribly knowledgeable about health inequalities—perhaps we think they should be. Even in terms of our understanding of where vaccines have been successful and unsuccessful, and how different communities receive information and engage with local health and care services, the pandemic has been a wake-up call and a good education for many of those leaders. We need to capitalise on that.
I know that drafters do not like to change things, but if we were to put addressing health inequalities in the Bill, as we seek to do, it would focus the Government’s drive on place-based commissioning and service delivery, and send a message to the powerful acute trusts—which at the end of the day run the money, and still will—that addressing health inequalities and looking at where and how their services are delivered to the most vulnerable will be a really positive outcome for the entire system. I therefore support the pursuance of the amendments.
To encourage the Minister to accept the amendment, I point out that addressing health inequalities would coincide with the Government’s stated aim of levelling up, so there is a happy coincidence there that might persuade him. Health inequalities are reflected geographically, and large parts of the country clearly suffer from them more than others. That pertains to England, but were I standing in the Senedd in Cardiff, I would say the same about Wales. That is slightly off the point, but there we are.
I am grateful to the shadow Minister and all other hon. Members who have spoken for the expertise that they bring to this debate. It is one of the quirks of this House that lawyers are hon. and learned Members and members of the armed forces are hon. and gallant Members, but we do not have an equivalent for those who serve in the medical profession. Perhaps we should think about that.
I am very grateful to hon. Members for bringing this debate to the Committee by tabling these amendments, which relate to the important issue of health inequalities, in the context of the new triple aim duty set out in the Bill. Even though we may not reach the same conclusions about the best way to do it, it is right that we debate this crucial issue in Committee.
With your consent, Mrs Murray, and that of the Committee, I will start in reverse order with new clause 13, and then work my way through the amendments of the hon. Member for Nottingham North. The new clause would place an additional duty on the Secretary of State to produce a report setting targets on the improvement of the physical and mental health of the population and the reduction of health inequalities.
I appreciate and understand the intention behind the hon. Gentleman’s new clause. He is right: health is the nation’s greatest asset. Preventing ill health, improving people’s health and wellbeing, and tackling long-standing inequalities are all fundamental to the economic and social strength of our country. However, the creation of a new statutory duty to set the type of target identified in the new clause is not necessary, in the light of the existing duties on the Secretary of State around improving public health and seeking to reduce health inequalities, as provided for in the 2006 Act. I may not agree with everything in it, but I pay tribute, where it is due, to the Labour party. Labour Members will hear a number of references to what is in that Act and to the retention of what is in that Act in many areas.
Of course, ICBs, too, have duties to have regard to the need to reduce health inequalities whenever they are exercising their functions, to promote integration where it would reduce health inequalities and to set out how they will tackle health inequalities in their plans.
I hope I can reassure members of the Committee that the Government are already taking strong action in these areas and that there are already a number of targets relating to improving the population’s health that cannot be met without addressing those underlying inequalities. For example—I know that this is something that the hon. Member for Nottingham North feels very strongly about—we cannot achieve our existing commitment to a smoke-free generation by 2030 if we do not address as a priority the needs of those people and populations with the greatest levels of need and help people to give up smoking. He is right, and this involves the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds. I suspect that when we reach the latter parts of this legislation that are about public health more specifically, this issue may feature, rightly, in the Committee’s discussions again.
To support our strategy to improve the population’s health and reduce health inequalities, at the beginning of October we will launch the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities within the Department. We have also announced that we will create a cross-Government ministerial group with a remit specifically to identify and tackle the wider determinants of poor health. Our broader focus on levelling up, to which the hon. Gentleman alluded, recognises the wide range of factors such as good jobs, homes and local environments in which we can take pride, alongside a range of other factors, that all support and interact with our physical and mental health.
In contrast, I fear that the new clause, although I can see its intent, could make it more difficult for us to swiftly focus on ensuring that such inequalities are identified and acted on. Had we a fixed, five yearly set of targets to work towards, I fear that it would introduce more rigidity, rather than the agility and flexibility that we seek in meeting the changing assessments of what underlying health inequalities must be tackled as a priority. I hope that I can persuade members of the Committee, although perhaps not all of them, that a five-year fixed plan is potentially inflexible and is not necessary in the context of this legislation.
I turn now to the amendments that relate to the duty known as the triple aim. Amendments 21, 23 and 25 would add a fourth limb of tackling health inequalities for NHS England, ICBs and NHS trusts. As I have stressed, we do recognise the importance of tackling health inequalities, but again, we do not feel that the amendments, however well intentioned, are necessary. As we have discussed, there are existing statutory duties on bodies in this area, many of which relate specifically to health inequalities. NHS England and ICBs will have to have regard to such duties alongside the limbs of the triple aim. NHS England will also have to consider such duties when it produces the guidance on the triple aim.
The triple aim is compatible with and conducive to addressing health inequalities and furthering the delivery of these duties. Indeed, tackling health inequalities is a theme that runs throughout the duties. Having organisations consider the wider effects of their decisions will, we believe, encourage greater collaboration and engagement with communities on how best to meet their needs, which in turn will assist with tackling health inequalities nationally, but also flexibly at a local level.
The triple aim duty requires consideration of the health and wellbeing of the people of England. As the shadow Minister alluded to, that would also include consideration of the health and wellbeing of those who are not accessing health services. Similarly, it is a key element of the second limb of the triple aim—the improvement of the quality of services—to consider those areas where services are in most need of improvement. We expect guidance from NHS England to make clear how bodies can discharge the triple aim duty in a way that is fully commensurate with the reduction of health inequalities.
Amendments 22, 24 and 26 would require NHS England, ICBs and NHS trusts to prioritise one limb of the triple aim above all others, prioritising the health and wellbeing of people in England above the quality of services provided to individuals in the health service and the sustainable and efficient use of resources. We fear that this would fundamentally undermine the intention of the triple aim duty, which is to require NHS England, integrated care boards, trusts and foundation trusts to think synergistically about the interests of the wider system as the provider of the solution to improve health inequalities when making decisions, balancing the different aspects of the duty. Rigidly prioritising one limb over the others could, we fear, lead to worse or unbalanced decisions being made. The triple aim is designed to be applied in a wide range of situations where that balance would be more appropriate.
To summarise my comments on the amendments, I remind the Committee that NHS England will make it clear in guidance how the various limbs of the triple aim should be balanced in specific situations, including in addressing both health inequalities and the health and wellbeing of the people of England, and in providing appropriate support to these decisions without a fixed or rigid requirement to always place one set of effects above the others. I hope I have persuaded the hon. Member for Nottingham North not to press his amendments to the vote, although I suspect I may be out of luck on this one.
Clause 4 places a new duty on NHS England to have regard to the wider effects of its decisions on the system as a whole. This duty, which was described in the long-term plan as the triple aim, is mirrored for English NHS trusts, foundation trusts and the proposed ICBs. NHS England will be able to produce guidance on this duty, with a requirement to consult those it considers appropriate. All bodies to whom it applies must have regard to that guidance. The duty is also given effect by clauses 19, 43 and 57.
The three limbs are that NHS England must consider: the impact of decisions on the health—including mental health—and wellbeing of the people of England, the impact on the quality of services provided or arranged by relevant NHS organisations, and the sustainable use of NHS resources.
Clinical and commissioning decisions about individuals are explicitly excluded from this duty by subsection (2). This is relevant to NHS England because its functions include making commissioning decisions about highly specialised treatment for some individuals. It would not be practical or appropriate to apply this duty to decisions about the services to be provided to a particular individual.
The existing duties on NHS bodies have encouraged a focus on the interests of each organisation and those who directly use their services. While the delivery of high quality services of course remains critical, this new duty will complement other changes in the Bill to facilitate co-operative working and integration, encouraging NHS organisations to go further in supporting their communities beyond the people they directly provide services to and to consider collaborative system-wide goals. We believe that clause 4 is essential in encouraging the components of our health system to work together co-operatively and considerately, with an awareness of the wider effects of their decisions.
I therefore encourage the shadow Minister not to press his amendments to the vote and commend clause 4 to the Committee.
Turning briefly to the points made by colleagues, the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire made the same arguments I did about patient safety and the Medicines and Medical Devices Act 2021. She made very good points about the health and wellbeing amendments, and I thought she was right to say that there is a real public appetite, now in particular, to tackle inequality. I do not think the public would be surprised to see the Government enter this space.
The hon. Member for Arfon made a similar point about whether levelling up is a political slogan or a public policy programme. It is very hard at the moment to find evidence for the latter, but this would be a really good piece of evidence for it. It is not just a north and midlands versus south issue. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South said, there are some constituencies, like my own, where every single super output area would be in the hardest pressed decile in the country. However, there are many more where there is a greater range—they have some of the poorest parts of the country, but they also have some of the best off. This is something that ought to be at the top of the priority list for every integrated care system in every constituency.
On new clause 13, the Minister said that five years is too rigid. He almost suggested that the Government might outperform. I will believe it when I see it, but there is no evidence from the last 11 years to suggest that that is in any way a risk. Nevertheless, if he brings this back with a two, three or four-year time period rather than five, I will be the first to join him in the Division Lobby to support it.
On amendments 21, 23 and 25, the idea of a “fourth limb” made it work conceptually—I quite like that. What I did not give much succour to was the idea that inequalities lie somewhere else on the statute book, in a way that health and wellbeing and organisational sustainability do not, and therefore it would not need that co-equivalence because it already exists. I did not agree with that point at all.
On the point about inequalities being part of the guidance, I suspect that that will not be the last time that is said in this Committee. Guidance is guidance; legislation is legislation. One of those is an awful lot more powerful and eminent than the other. My view is that if we want to send a clear signal about something, we do not take it out and stick it in the guidance.
I do not give much succour to the point about elevating one of the triple aims either. The Minister said that that would undermine the triple aims. He talked again about the interest of the wider system, but I think all of us are more interested in the wider population. One of those clearly comes before the other. The needs of the one flow into how to organise the system. To organise a system that is supposed to come together in the interests of population health, I would really like to think that population health is more important than the system. I am not sure about the idea that, as a result, worse decisions would be made, and I would be interested in hearing an example. I have to say that that point did not resonate with me.
I am conscious of the reply from the Minister and, indeed, of the time, so I will not press new clause 13 and amendments 22 to 26. However, I do wish to push amendment 21, because if we are talking about NHS England—that totem of healthcare in our country—I really think we ought to send the signal that health inequality should be one of its priorities.