Clause 7 - Exercise of functions relating to provision of services

Health and Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 14 September 2021.

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

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I am getting my exercise today in bouncing up and down in my seat. Clause 7 enables NHS England to direct one or more integrated care boards to exercise certain NHS England functions and to fund the exercise of those functions. This relates to NHS England functions such as the commissioning of specialised services, health services in justice settings and armed forces settings, primary medical services, dental services, primary ophthalmic services, pharmaceutical services, and any of the Secretary of State’s public health functions that are exercisable by NHS England on his behalf. In future the intention is that ICBs be responsible for the majority of health service commissioning in England. This approach will ensure that decisions about services are made closer to the patient and in line with local population needs, enabling greater integration in the way that services are arranged and delivered.

Clause 7 ensures that NHS England has the appropriate powers to make sure we achieve our policy objective, by allowing flexibility for ICBs to take on these additional commissioning responsibilities as delegated functions from NHS England. We intend that this can be used by NHS England to delegate primary care functions while ICBs mature, before we transfer them fully to ICBs at the appropriate time using clause 16 and schedule 3, which we will debate in due course. This will allow NHS England to keep a closer watch on how ICBs are discharging these functions, and managing the transition, before they are fully delegated to and embedded in ICBs.

The Secretary of State will have the ability to make regulations under this clause, meaning that, where appropriate, certain conditions or limitations can be placed on NHS England’s power to direct ICBs, including the ability to prescribe functions that the power does not apply to at all. Any directions issued by NHS England under this clause must be published. I know that the transparency point is one that the shadow Minister has raised on a number of occasions, so I reassure him that they must be published ensuring that such directions are made transparently, and that responsibilities between NHS England and ICBs are clearly set out.

This clause is essential to give NHS England the flexibility, and the appropriate mechanisms, to delegate the commissioning of these services when the time is right to do so. Therefore, I commend it to the Committee.

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

We will not be opposing this clause. Clearly, as the Minister has set out, it is necessary to enable the functioning of the health service.

I have one question about the powers under proposed new subsection 13YB(4), which are effectively prohibitions on the ICBs from delegating arrangements further. Will the Minister set out what circumstances are envisaged, if any, where this power may be necessary? There will obviously be delegations, not only to the services listed there, but to place-based organisations. In that situation, what does the Minister see the role of the ICBs as? Will it be the ICB itself that delivers those functions, or will it be another body?

Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Labour, Bristol South

Further to those points about clarity around the exercising of powers, the move to give NHS England that power is entirely sensible. The medical, dental, ophthalmic and pharmaceutical services have had a lower profile in our constituencies over the last few years, as I think we would all agree. It is important to give them the profile they need to be integrated into the system, because they have certainly not been so far.

The evolution of delegating that power to CCGs came late in the day, and remains muddled around the commissioning of primary care services. Therefore, while allowing the delegation of function is entirely sensible, it is not clear, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston has said, when or how that delegation will be sought. I think the Minister was referring to the involvement of the Secretary of State, but I am not sure in what circumstances the Secretary of State would be doing that, and why this would not be when NHS England, or NHS England regions, decides that the ICB is of a maturity to accept commissioning responsibilities.

One assumes that NHS England believes that at the moment some of those putative organisations are mature enough already; will some of them start doing that on day one, six months in or a year in? How will we know and how will they be resourced to do it? Is it a transfer of power? How NHS England and the local ICB, without representatives of medical, dental, ophthalmic and pharmaceutical bodies, will be taking that on board is all very opaque.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

My hon. Friend has a local Mayor, but my community does not. If someone lives in Greater Manchester there is a Mayor, but in other places there may not be. We have a very asymmetric model of local devolution. Does she agree that an asymmetric model of devolution, where some ICBs had certain powers and others did not, would be undesirable and may create more confusion than it solves?

Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Labour, Bristol South

My hon. Friend makes an interesting point about asymmetrical power and who does what. I may differ slightly, in that I think that that may suit local circumstances, but the judgment about what a mature ICB is, and which powers it should be responsible for, has been made behind closed doors and according to criteria about which we know nothing. The professionals in those services certainly deserve to know better.

Fundamentally, however, patients in both our areas need to understand and know who is commissioning and why. The state of dentistry shocks us all as a nation, as do those of ophthalmic services and pharmaceutical services, which we know are so important for supporting the wider system. We want to ensure that those services thrive and that they are clear about how they are being commissioned and who is doing it.

In my experience, the evolution from the CCG was muddled and meant stasis for a long time in any development of those services. We want to avoid that, because some of those organisations will be ready to go now and some of them may never be ready. As my hon. Friend says, is that an acceptable position for the Government in this new area of local permissiveness?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 2:15, 14 September 2021

The hon. Lady is absolutely right about the importance of trying to join up different primary care services and the commissioning arrangements. There has been, under Governments of all complexions, a fragmentation in that, with some services commissioned nationally and others locally, and the Bill gives us an opportunity to create a more coherent, place-based commissioning approach.

On the specific point the shadow Minister asked about proposed new subsection (4) and the

“direction under subsection (1) to include provision prohibiting or restricting the integrated care board from making delegation arrangements in relation to a function that is exercisable by it by virtue of the direction”,

my understanding is that it is a pragmatic clause, basically limiting the ability to sub-delegate further. We would envisage this being a consensual and collaborative approach between us and NHS England in the region, and of course the Government would be guided by NHS England.

In the nature of having to make regulations in this House to do it, the wording reflects the fact that it will be the Government laying those regulations, but we would envisage that being guided and led by the NHS. As the hon. Member for Bristol South rightly said, the NHS region will often be the best place to advise on the readiness or otherwise of different ICBs at different stages in the process.

Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Labour, Bristol South

Would somebody be able to appeal to the Secretary of State if they disagreed with that delegation, for example?

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

My understanding is that there is no formal right of appeal in this context. I suspect that dispute resolution and formal rights of appeal is something we will come back to in other contexts.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.