Clause 38 - Reconfiguration of services: intervention powers

Part of Health and Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 21st September 2021.

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Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 3:30 pm, 21st September 2021

I will come to the shadow Minister’s point, but I just want to get through the points he made earlier in his preamble. He mentioned the quote in the Health Service Journal article from a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care, and I think that quote accurately reflects the nature of this Bill. I am grateful to those officials from the Department who ensured that the Health Service Journal got its quote.

I now turn to the substance of the shadow Minister’s argument and some of the gritter points that he, the hon. Member for Bristol South and others have alluded to. Fundamentally, he asked what challenge this Bill seeks to resolve. He asked a few other questions as well, which I will try to answer.

We believe that the Secretary of State should be able to intervene in reconfigurations for which they are ultimately accountable, and that this proposal will increase accountability to Parliament and the community by enabling intervention at an earlier stage. Too often, controversial proposals are referred at the very end of the process after a huge amount of work, effort and expenditure, rather than at an earlier stage when there is already a divergence of opinion in the local community. The Bill gives the Secretary of State an opportunity to take a view—based on advice and on the IRP’s four tests, which will continue to be the basis of that—and to get earlier intervention, where appropriate. That is one of the key reasons.

I will carry on, and the shadow Minister will nod if I am missing anything. He touched on local authority engagement, who can refer, whether there is a diminution in power—I think the hon. Member for Bristol South might have mentioned that—and what qualifies the Secretary of State to make those decisions. He also referred to local knowledge.

As the shadow Minister knows, the Secretary of State can already act to determine the outcome of a reconfiguration process, but only in limited and defined circumstances following a referral from a local authority health overview and scrutiny committee, on the grounds either that the consultation was inadequate or that the change in question is not in the interests of the health service in the area.

The change in the clause will extend the scope for intervention by allowing that call-in at any stage. That would have the effect of allowing people or organisations other than local authorities—for example, Members of Parliament—to ask the Secretary of State to do so. That will enable a more flexible and possibly earlier intervention, which has the potential to shorten the timescales for resolving such issues, when appropriate, rather than seeing them drawn out and extended.