Clause 14 - People for whom integrated care boards have responsibility

Part of Health and Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:45 pm on 16th September 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) 12:45 pm, 16th September 2021

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?