We anticipate the guidance setting out what is proportionate, the criteria and the appropriate point at which an intervention can be considered. I come back to the point that too often, under the current arrangement, proposals come forward right at the end of the process, after huge amounts of expenditure, effort and time, only to be overturned—potentially at the very last moment—on the basis of the referral. Having a measured and proportionate intervention power at an earlier stage is the right approach to save a lot of angst and possibly money, although we do not anticipate that the power will need to be used on many occasions, because the vast majority of reconfigurations are broadly consensual, or reach a local consensus.
The shadow Minister alluded to local authority referrals, and the hon. Member for Bristol South has highlighted the importance of local authorities and local accountability in a number of previous speeches and interventions. The new call-in power will not replace the important role that local scrutiny and engagement play in service change decisions. Decision making on all reconfigurations, as I said, will continue to be bound by the four tests against which reconfiguration should be assured: strong public and patient engagement; consistency with current and prospective need for patient choice; a clear clinical evidence base; and support for proposals from clinical commissioners.
The IRP will continue to provide the independent clinical advice to inform the Secretary of State’s decision making. His scrutiny and direction-making process must take into account the public law decision-making principles, all relevant information and all legal duties, including the public sector equality duty.
In that context, the Secretary of State will also continue to be bound by his duty on quality of service. That includes promoting the comprehensive health service and securing continuous improvement in the quality of services provided. The new call-in power for reconfiguration will allow the Secretary of State to support effective change and to be more responsive to the concerns of the public—and of Members of Parliament as their representatives—at an earlier stage.