Clause 14 - People for whom integrated care boards have responsibility

Health and Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 16th 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) 12:45 pm, 16th September 2021

The clause requires NHS England to publish rules setting out which people each ICB is responsible for. We intend to recreate as closely as possible the arrangements that currently exist for clinical commissioning groups. However, CCG responsibility is based on a model of GP membership that will no longer exist under the new ICB arrangements.

The clause places a duty on NHS England to publish rules determining the responsibility of each ICB, subject to certain exceptions that may be created by secondary legislation. This is intended to replicate the ability to make exceptions to the responsibilities of CCGs by regulations in section 3(1D) of the National Health Service Act 2006. As with the existing regulations, the new regulations would be subject to the affirmative procedure of the House, which I hope offers some reassurance to the Opposition Front Bench in respect of the regulation-making powers. Therefore, there would continue to be strong parliamentary oversight of regulations under the clause.

Proposed new section 14Z31 ensures that no one slips through any gaps. The rules set by NHS England must ensure that everyone who accesses primary medical services, as well as anyone who is not registered with a GP but is resident in England, is allocated to a group of people for which an ICB is responsible. In practice, we expect NHS England’s rules to be framed in such a way that ICBs will be associated with certain GP practices, and responsible for patients registered with those specified GP practices. They will also be responsible for people who are not registered but are resident in the ICB geographical footprint.

Taking that approach is intended to ensure universality of coverage and to minimise the disruption of transitioning from CCGs to ICBs. The clause also provides a power to replace the duty on NHS England to publish rules dealing with ICB responsibility, with an alternative approach based simply on residency. If it is considered appropriate in the future, those new arrangements would mean that ICBs were responsible for those who usually reside within their specified geographical footprint. Regulations would be required in order to change that approach.

The clause provides the necessary certainty about which ICB is responsible for which people. Without it, there could be significant confusion about ICB responsibilities, difficulty in calculating financial allocations to ICBs based on those they are responsible for and uncertainty for providers about which people they are contracted to provide services to. The clause seeks to provide fluent continuity with the arrangements under CCGs, and explicitly does not allow people to fall through gaps. Ultimately, everyone will be the responsibility of an ICB and will be able to access care when they need it. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.

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

I will make some comments on clause 14. I think the Minister has anticipated to some extent what I might say. I may well drift into clause 15 as well, but I promise the Committee that I will not repeat those comments in the discussion on clause 15. There is clearly an overlap here. It really is about the issue that the Minister referred to: who is entitled to what within the comprehensive NHS? For some, this is a formality, repeating the language used before and the principles on which the NHS was founded. For others, every word change and new clause that appears in the legislation is an attempt to restrict access and allow an opening for cuts to services to be made in a time of immense financial pressure. We want, and I think the Minister has opened the door to this, to ensure that that is not what the Bill is about.

To be fair, there is a history of commissioners trying on occasions to restrict access. There was the Croydon list of some 20 years ago. Primary care trusts set out lists of services and said that the treatments had little or no value and should not be provided on the NHS. Of course, that led to huge debates between trusts and medical practitioners. It could be argued that people were defending their own particular practices and specialties, or they could be said to be champions of the NHS. Patients looked at it from both perspectives, but for the patients who relied on those services it was a very real debate and a very real source of anxiety.

A more recent argument on this came from the various attempts to apply NHS charges to certain people who it was argued were not eligible for free treatment. There is a very sinister echo of the phrase “no access to benefits”. The long-held consensus appeared to be under threat—the principle that emergency NHS care is open to all. When American tourists come over here and have to seek emergency treatment they are pleasantly surprised, and somewhat bemused, that they do not have to produce a credit card at the point of use. This is where the arguments begin to arise.

If a patient is moved from an emergency bed for elective care, they can be charged if they are ineligible for free NHS care. The usual test is whether they are ordinarily resident in the country. On principle, if someone qualifies for NHS treatment, they can get it anywhere in the country, while on holiday. Most of us have taken our breaks this year somewhere in this country. We do not have to go back to our own local A&E to get treatment. We could, in theory, get our elective operations anywhere in the country, should we wish. Pre-Lansley this did not matter as much, because it was always payment by results. Ambulances crossing borders may occasionally result in a cross-organisational internal charge. Maybe we will see an end to that kind of bureaucracy.

The other argument that emerged during the Lansley period was around who the responsible commissioner within a particular area or population was. That market approach required tying people to a GP practice. The GP register has been a central base from which decisions were made. Did that really affect things on the ground? It certainly caused a lot of debate. It would be helpful if the Minister provided clarity.

The issue of access is important, and clause 14 sets it out in subsections (1), (2)(a) and (2)(b) of proposed new section 14Z31 of the National Health Service Act 2006. According to the NHS, access is universal, but depending on their immigration status within the UK, a person may be charged for accessing certain services. However, certain services are free to everyone: treatment given in an A&E department, though this does not include further treatment following admission to hospital; treatment for certain infectious diseases, but for HIV/AIDS only the first diagnosis and counselling that follow are free; compulsory psychiatric treatment; and family planning services, but this does not include termination of pregnancy or infertility treatments. People ordinarily resident in the UK or who have an exemption from charging will not be charged for NHS treatment. I could go into what ordinarily resident means, but I will not detain the Committee by going through all of that. However, it is fairly clear that it can be a British citizen or someone naturalised or settled in the UK, usually known as having indefinite leave to remain.

The Bill does not cover any of this, but there is a point about it not necessarily being the same person paying for and receiving the treatment. There are questions about those seeking asylum and those who might be denied care because there are questions about where they live. There was the image of a paramedic stepping out of an ambulance and asking someone suffering a cardiac arrest whether they had some kind of identification to prove that they were ordinarily resident. The images are not common ones, but they raise concerns. When the 2012 Act was debated, these issues were discussed at great length. I do not think the fears that were expressed at the time have manifested themselves. Does the Minister believe that using “usually resident” is better than “ordinarily resident”? I also wonder whether under proposed new section 14Z31, the NHS will publish rules as referred to. Could we have clarification on that?

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

I will respond very briefly. The shadow Minister raises two key bundles of points. I hope that I can reassure him that the approach adopted here is far from restricting access. It is designed to ensure that everyone has an ICB covering them, ensuring universality of coverage. Similarly, the clause does not alter in any way the ability of anyone to access emergency care when they need it, nor those ordinarily resident in the UK to use the NHS as they do.

The second bundle of points he made related to charging regulations and those who are eligible to be charged under current regulations. While he highlighted a number of points, I genuinely believe that the charging regulations in place are appropriately and reasonably framed and strike the right balance in ensuring that people can access NHS care, while rightly making a contribution to the services they are accessing—obviously with certain things exempt from charging for public health and other reasons. I do believe they strike the appropriate balance. There is nothing in what we are proposing today that fundamentally changes people’s ability to access healthcare, nor indeed changes those charging regulations. On that basis, I commend clause 14 to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 14 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Maggie Throup.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.