Clause 26 - Abolition of Monitor and transfer of functions to NHS England

Health and Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 21st September 2021.

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

Photo of Sheryll Murray Sheryll Murray Conservative, South East Cornwall

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

That schedule 5 be the Fifth schedule to the Bill.

Clauses 27 to 32 stand part.

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

NHS England and NHS Improvement, comprised of Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority—the TDA—requested the primary legislative changes to support the merger of their organisations, and these clauses are fundamental to fulfilling that ambition. In recent years, NHS England and Monitor, as part of NHS Improvement, have been working closely together with a view to acting as a single organisation with a single operating model. They already have aligned board and committee arrangements and joint senior executive appointments through the joint working programme. Despite the progress made, there are limits to the extent to which they can collaborate under the current statutory framework.

Establishing a single statutory body responsible for the health care system in England has several clear benefits. First, it will create a more joined-up approach across the NHS to provide national leadership and speak with one voice to set clear and consistent expectations for providers, commissioners and local health systems. Secondly, it brings services, support and improvement under a single regulatory and legislative framework. That will deliver improved care for patients, enabling better use of collective resources, removing unnecessary duplication and ultimately making better use of public money. The merger will provide clearer lines of accountability so that the public can be assured that any service they use meets the same requirements around safety and quality.

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

One of the problems that we have found in Nottingham around driving integration was the duplication of lots of different regulators and metrics, which meant that organisations were often working to different purposes. This obviously tidies that up a bit in terms of regulators. Does the Minister envisage going further in the future?

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

I am grateful to the shadow Minister for that question, which reminds me of some of the questions that he used to ask me in this room about what the future held when we discussed delegated legislation. I am always cautious not to predict the future, but hopefully it will be helpful if I set out the principles that I think should apply. I agree that unnecessary duplication that does not bring clear and tangible benefits to patient safety or improve outcomes is clearly undesirable. Therefore we will seek to streamline where appropriate, but without compromising patient safety or the outcomes that patients experience. While not predicting the future, I hope that gives him some reassurance of the direction of travel as I see it.

Clause 26, along with other provisions in the Bill, including clause 29, makes the legal changes necessary to bring these organisations together as one legal entity. Clause 26 abolishes Monitor and introduces schedule 5, which contains amendments that transfer Monitor’s functions to NHS England in order to fulfil the Bill’s intention to merge Monitor and the NHS TDA into NHS England to form a single body. The schedule transfers powers and duties from Monitor to NHS England and repeals provisions that are no longer necessary in the light of the merger. For example, Monitor’s functions in relation to NHS foundation trust mergers and acquisitions in sections 56 and 56(a) of the 2006 Act, and in relation to licensing providers in sections 81 to 114 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, will all transfer to NHS England.

We acknowledge that bringing together the commissioning functions previously exercised by the NHS commissioning board, and the regulatory functions previously exercised by Monitor, under a single organisation could be perceived as giving rise to conflicts of interest. The Bill will therefore ensure the proper management of any such conflicts, and we will work with stakeholders on robust processes that will safeguard the separation of responsibilities and improve transparency. For those reasons, clause 27 seeks to insert new section 13SA, which deals with minimising conflicts between the body’s regulatory and other functions, into the National Health Service Act 2006.

The clause places a duty on NHS England to minimise the risk of conflict or manage any conflicts that arise between its regulatory functions and other functions. In the event that a conflict were to occur, NHS England would be under a duty to resolve or manage that conflict and to ensure appropriate transparency. NHS England must include within its annual report details of such conflicts and how it had complied with its duties to manage them under new section 13SA of the 2006 Act.

Clause 28 amends section 100 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which relates to the modification of licence conditions for providers. Licences are the basis by which NHS Improvement and, in future, NHS England set conditions on providers as to the terms on which they can operate. The clause requires that when NHS England makes a major change to the standard licence conditions, as permitted under section 100 of the 2012 Act, it must assess the likely impact of the change or publish a statement explaining why such an assessment is not needed.

The clause also provides that the impact assessment carried out by NHS England must be included in the notice of the modification that is sent to the relevant licence holder and others, as required by section 100(2) of the 2012 Act. This new requirement is intended to make it clearer why NHS England is altering a standard licence condition, which we think is in the interests of providers and the smooth running of the system.

Clause 29 abolishes the NHS TDA and works in harmony with clause 26, which abolishes Monitor and other provisions in the Bill that confer functions on NHS England in relation to providers, in order to merge the two organisations into NHS England to form a single body. In transferring functions that were formerly delegated to the TDA, we have considered the mechanisms and processes associated with those duties and assessed the best fit for the system, to ensure that the relationships already in place are not unduly affected. Clause 29 revokes the directions that established the TDA, and subsections (3) and (4) include consequential amendments that remove references to the TDA. They will no longer be relevant once the TDA is abolished.

Clause 30 makes a consequential amendment to NHS England’s general functions to reflect its oversight of NHS trusts and foundation trusts due to the merger of NHS England and NHS Improvement. The clause ensures a joined-up approach to decision making, allowing NHS England to understand the services required to best serve patients. It amends section 1H of the National Health Service Act 2006 so that for the purpose of discharging its duty to promote a comprehensive health service in England, NHS England must exercise its functions in relation to English NHS trusts and foundation trusts, as well as in relation to ICBs, which will replace the current reference to CCGs, so that services are provided for that purpose.

As part of the merger of NHS England, Monitor and the NHS TDA, and as a consequence of the abolition of Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority, clause 31 gives the Secretary of State the power to make schemes to transfer the staff, property, rights and liabilities from Monitor and the TDA to NHS England. These transfer scheme provisions follow a similar protocol used within the Health and Social Care Act 2012 for the transfer of assets, rights or liabilities on the abolition of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence and the Health and Social Care Information Centre. The transfer schemes used then proved effective and efficient, ensuring a smooth transition and no impact on the services they delivered.

Finally, clause 32 contains a regulation-making power that allows the Treasury to vary the way in which any relevant tax has effect in relation to the transfer scheme. Regulations made under this power can be used to ensure that no taxes arise, and that there are no changes to the tax positions of either the transferee or transferor body. It is appropriate to avoid unnecessary tax complications relating to a transfer scheme between public bodies. The types of taxes that can be varied are set out in the clause.

Without this clause, the transfer of assets or liabilities between the bodies mentioned in clause 31—namely Monitor, NHS Trust Development Authority and NHS England—could give rise to unintended tax liabilities. As I have highlighted, this merger has clear benefits and is central to the Government’s plans for establishing a more integrated, responsive and accountable health and care system.

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

I am grateful to the Minister for his detail on those clauses, which have been very helpfully grouped. Although we have not put forward any amendments, we do want to raise some general concerns—mostly around what these clauses do not do.

As we have heard—although I do not think the Minister used quite the same terminology as we would have—these clauses have got rid of the worst trappings of the market architecture, which were characteristic of the Lansley Act. As we have heard, they enable the merger of NHS England and NHS Improvement, although I do not think that NHS Improvement is actually mentioned anywhere in the Bill. All references are to Monitor and the NHS Trust Development Authority. It is almost as if the Government want us to forget that NHS Improvement ever existed—or probably want us to forget who was chairing it.

The abolition of Monitor sounds another death knell for the Lansley Act, but does leave some of the market mechanisms in place. However, since they were ignored anyway, I can understand why the Government have not bothered to go the whole hog.

Clause 26 finally turns the Monitor off at the mains—although I think it is fair to say that it stopped working some time ago. NHS England is now the undisputed, supreme leader over commissioning and both flavours of providing, so the Bill not only tears up the Lansley reforms but quietly changes the 2003 amendments. Monitor was set up as the regulator of foundation trusts, and was to be the approver of applications to become a foundation trust.

Foundation trusts have had many incarnations, but were once heralded as the vigorous, autonomous new organisations that would shake up the NHS and bring choice and competition into healthcare. They were beyond the reach of those nasty bureaucrats who ran the rest of the NHS. However, as I think we have seen today, it has not quite turned out like that. There must be a clever saying somewhere that “All health service reforms end in failure”, just like all politicians’ careers—although the Minister is clearly an exception to that!

It is fair to say that we are seeing the end of the foundation trust experiment. There is no evidence that the new foundation trust model did any better than the old model. Of course, the first few anointed foundation trusts did outperform non-foundation trusts, but that was because they were already the best-performing trusts. That was why they were allowed to become foundation trusts in the first place. It was, really, a self-fulfilling prophecy, but, as time has moved on, it has been harder and harder for trusts to excel to the level originally envisaged.

Foundation trusts did have some good characteristics; they did have a better go at accountability to their governing bodies. Given this Bill’s focus on involving patients and the public in the wider health system, perhaps this system also has some positives—something to commend it. It might not have been a bad idea to have an equivalent model for the governance of ICBs, but I will not return to that now. I know the Minister has not warmed to our suggestions of greater accountability, but I will leave that for him to consider if he brings forward amendments on Report.

The Lansley Act favoured foundation trusts and made the optimistic—and what turned out to be highly inaccurate—assumption that, in time, all NHS providers would become foundation trusts. As so much happened with that Act, however, it turned out not to be the case at all. Foundation trusts are now no different from the old-school, old-style NHS trusts—a “distinction without a difference”, as Lord Stevens once quipped. For all relevant purposes, NHS trusts and NHS foundation trusts are performance-managed in exactly the same way.

To rub salt into the wounds, the Bill will provide the ability for ICBs to create new trusts, which will be ordinary trusts rather than foundation trusts—I hope that the Minister can confirm that my understanding of that is correct. That prompts the question: if Monitor is going, why are we keeping foundation trusts? Perhaps more pertinently, why do we still have two different models for trusts? Let us have flexibility and a thousand flowers blooming, but having two versions of what, to all intents and purposes, are exactly the same thing seems unnecessary. We know that the Minister wants to see unnecessary duplication and bureaucracy removed, and this is perhaps a very good example of that.

One thing that Lansley envisaged was a single model, and perhaps that is the right way to go, but we are in a very strange position with two approaches and very little to distinguish between them. Why not let all NHS trusts become foundation trusts or call them all trusts? I guess that someone could work out whether it would be cheaper to change all the stationery in ordinary trusts or all the stationery in foundation trusts, so that all the letterheads and notices say “trust” or “foundation trust”—whichever one ended up being the cheaper option. Really, there is no practical distinction now. If we got rid of that distinction, we would at least want the governing body model for foundation trusts to become the standard for all, which we would perceive as a real step forward for public engagement.

Having said all that, there is one other outstanding distinction, because foundation trusts are still able, at least in theory, to retain control over their capital spending. As we will see later, however, even that is an endangered species. What are the practical differences between trusts and foundations trusts, and why do the Government consider it so important that the distinctions remain?

Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Labour, Bristol South 9:45 am, 21st September 2021

My hon. Friend is right in what he says. Given Monitor’s role, NHS Improvement’s role and local scrutiny of what is happening within the system—it is almost independent in some cases—there is a real gap here now. I have called them cartels before, although my hon. Friend will perhaps not use that word. With the absence of Monitor, where is the transparent and independent scrutiny? What is the new regime, and how will that accentuate the patient voice? We have also been unable to highlight how many millions of pounds have been wasted in the intervening years from 2012 with regards to how the previous Act was pushed through, and the terrible waste that has arisen as a result. Surely the patient voice must be really important in holding trusts to account.

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

I can assure my hon. Friend that I will not waste opportunities to refer to the waste of public money as a result of the Lansley Act, but the wider point is one that the Opposition have made already in Committee and will continue to make. There is clearly a gap where accountability ought to lie. It will be interesting to hear what the Minister says about why the governing model for foundation trusts cannot be expanded to all remaining trusts. We would particularly want to see far greater patient involvement in the integrated care systems in the Bill. Clearly, we have had that debate unsuccessfully, but I hope that we will perhaps have an opportunity to return to it once the Bill returns from the other place.

I will say a few words on the licensing scheme. Given that the Bill marks an end to the whole era of markets and competition and a move, at least in theory, to a model of collaboration and co-operation—not a cartel, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South might call it—why is it necessary to license NHS bodies that are now fully under the control of NHS England and the Secretary of State? That does not seem to be a particularly good use of anyone’s time, and it will create more unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy.

We will do our best to help the Minister in reducing obstacles to delivering patient care, so we will not oppose these clauses. However, we think that they have probably not gone far enough. They are clearly a necessary tidying-up job, but the Government should do the job fully and properly.

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

As ever, I am grateful to the shadow Minister. He should be optimistic—perhaps not on this issue, but more broadly—about the reception of some of his suggestions. I think I managed to take him aback slightly last week with one suggestion, although it was perhaps not the one with which he expected me to be willing to engage. I always listen to and consider carefully what he says.

The shadow Minister made a number of points. He mentioned the references to Monitor and TDA and said there are no references to NHS Improvement. That is because NHS Improvement is not the named body in law—that is simply a legal distinction. The named bodies are the NHS TDA and Monitor, which we understand and know as NHS Improvement.

I gently chide the shadow Minister. His reference to the chair of NHS Improvement, Baroness Harding, was a little unmerited. She has worked tirelessly. Colleagues will have their views, as is entirely appropriate in this place, but his reference was uncharacteristically uncharitable.

Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Labour, Bristol South

Given that the Minister, who I think is an honourable man, has mentioned that, does he think it acceptable for the chair of NHS Improvement to take the Conservative Whip in the House of Lords, as was outlined in the pre-screening scrutiny commission by the Health and Social Care Committee? Does he think that is acceptable, as other Ministers have not done so?

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

I believe that all appointments, including that one, are conducted entirely appropriately, in line with Cabinet Office guidance.

I move on to the shadow Minister’s substantive points, which he perhaps made more in hope than anything else. We are not resiling from the value that choice and competition can bring, but we recognise that it is not the only driver of improvement and that collaboration plays a key role, so the position is perhaps a little more nuanced than he might like to suggest or wish to see. What we are seeing here is a reflection of the reality. We are ensuring that the way the system has evolved in practical terms over time is reflected by updating the appropriate legislation.

The shadow Minister mentioned a number of specific points around foundation trusts, and I hope I can give him some reassurance. We are not abolishing foundation trusts or their rights. The licensing system that we are talking about allows for equivalent management of both types of trust in a consistent way, and the NHS will still have the power to authorise new foundation trusts in the future, if they meet the appropriate criteria.

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

I think the Minister probably has the gist of what I was getting at in my comments. Can he tell us how many applications for foundation trust status are currently in the pipeline?

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

The shadow Minister is an able parliamentarian. I hesitate to say with certainty, but my belief is none at present. However, I caveat that by saying I would not wish to mislead the Committee. If I have got that wrong, I will of course let him know.

There is nothing that stops the evolution of trusts into foundation trusts, if they so wish and meet the criteria. What we are saying here is that it is not one size fits all. We will not force anyone down that route, but the option remains for NHS England. I would argue that the way the system has evolved is a reflection of the strength of that system and the framework that we have put in place around it. On a serious note, I know that the point about foundation trusts is of considerable interest to the shadow Minister. When we reach clauses 51 to 57, which cover this issue and the operation of foundation trusts, I suspect that we may get into rather more detail about how they actually operate. I might even be able to confirm that my understanding of the figure for which he asks is correct.

The shadow Minister has made his points clearly, but I hope the Opposition will agree to these clauses. They are technical clauses in essence, and the shadow Minister has rightly used them to air broader issues that are related. They are technical clauses to reflect the reality of the evolution of the system.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 26 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 5 agreed to.

Clauses 27 to 32 ordered to stand part of the Bill.