Clause 63 - Guidance about joint appointments

Health and Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 23rd 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 clause 64 stand part.

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

Before I speak to clauses 63 and 64, I crave your indulgence, Mrs Murray: I should have said to the shadow Minister that the previous clauses were about delegation from the NHS to local authorities, not the other way around. I would just like to put that on the record for him, because he expressed a concern about that.

Clauses 63 and 64 have been included in the Bill to help support ICBs and ICPs and to enhance integration across the health and care system. Clause 63 allows NHS England to issue guidance about appointing an individual to roles simultaneously in NHS commissioners and NHS providers, or in relevant NHS bodies on the one hand, and local authorities or combined authorities on the other. We have seen a number of clinical commissioning group and local authority joint appointments that have supported integration and been successful, and we would be keen to see those continue.

The clause further sets a requirement for these NHS bodies to have regard to such guidance when considering making a joint appointment. Joint appointments between organisations can support aligned decision making, enhance leadership across organisations and improve the delivery of integrated care. However, we believe that greater clarity is required to support organisations in making appropriate joint appointments, to avoid conflicts of interest that can be difficult to manage. Before issuing any new or significantly revised guidance, NHS England would be required to consult with appropriate persons.

Clause 63 will allow NHS England to publish a clear set of criteria for organisations to consider when making joint appointments and ensure regard is given to such guidance. That will also provide a safeguard against any conflicts of interest that may arise in the process of making joint appointments.

Clause 64 amends sections 72 and 82 of the National Health Service Act 2006, which deal with the co-operation between NHS bodies and the co-operation between NHS bodies and local authorities respectively. The clause inserts a new power for the Secretary of State to make guidance related to the existing co-operation duties between NHS bodies and between NHS bodies and local authorities. While the existing co-operation duties in sections 72 and 82 relate to both English and Welsh NHS bodies and local authorities, the guidance relates only to England, and the requirement to have regard to guidance issued under this new power will apply only to English NHS bodies and English local authorities.

Our intention is not to produce a single piece of co-operation guidance, which would risk being too general or too wide-ranging to be effective. Rather, we are considering discrete pieces of guidance in specific areas such as delivery of alcohol and drugs services, sexual and reproductive health, or hospital discharge services, to encourage and facilitate co-operation and integration in their delivery.

The clause also amends section 96 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which concerns the setting of licensing conditions for providers of NHS services. The licence, as we touched on earlier today, was established in 2013 so that providers of NHS services must meet to help ensure that the health sector works for the benefit of patients. Currently, conditions can be set on co-operation, but these provisions can apply only in certain circumstances.

The clause goes further: it supports system integration, promotes greater co-operation by removing the limitation on setting licence conditions on co-operation, and expands the range of bodies with which co-operation can be required. That will strengthen and reinforce the requirements on providers to co-operate and further strengthens the ability for NHS providers to deliver the system plan.

Co-operation is central to the intentions and underpinnings of this Bill. New guidance and expanding the role co-operation plays in the licensing regime will give organisations greater clarity about the practical expectations for co-operation, help the NHS to build on the innovation, working relationships and positive behaviours that have been seen over the past year, and further embed these behaviours across the health and care system. I therefore commend these clauses to the Committee.

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

I am sure the Minister will be unsurprised to learn that the Opposition are a little wary of the powers in clause 63. One person doing two jobs is never ideal. I make an honourable exception for the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd, who, in his other role, plays an important part in contributing to the wellbeing of the nation. Such exceptions are rare, and we think that two jobs for one person is never a sustainable or long-term solution.

We draw a distinction between a secondment, which obviously means that the position is by definition time limited and allows the post-holder to return to their original position. It is often good for career development, and that kind of mobility and interchange between the NHS and local authorities may be a very positive development, particularly with ICBs. However, the idea that there can be a joint appointment of a commissioner and a provider sounds wholly contradictory. Although the Minister has tried to allay our concerns by referring to guidance, it is clear that an NHS body needs to only “have regard” to that guidance. The question remains: at what point does someone step in when there is a clear and detrimental conflict of interest? We will see what the Minister has to say, but it we may need to keep a very close eye on that.

Clause 64 is a rather less obvious power grab by the Secretary of State, but it is one all the same. Clearly, he is not satisfied with the extent of co-operation between NHS bodies, because the Secretary of State now wants to be able to tell them how to co-operate. The guidance is to be issued, and a duty is to be placed on NHS bodies to follow it, or else face the consequences. What of? It is good old-fashioned persuasion—the willingness to work together for the greater good. It is actually the case that the Secretary of State wants two goes at this, as there are further powers to issue guidance in respect of NHS bodies and local authorities, which currently have to co-operate in order to advance the health and wellbeing of people.

Surely it is the case that they are doing that already. I cannot think of any reason why they would not co-operate, but what would be the sanction if they do not? Can the Minister tell us who he thinks these errant councils are that are not co-operating? Between myself, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North and the Minister himself, we must have over a quarter of a century of experience in local government, and I cannot think of any occasion when councils were anything other than co-operative with the NHS. That is my experience, but if the Minister can help fill in the gaps, I would be most obliged.

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

The shadow Minister tempts me to name and shame. He may be tempting me in vain. He raised three key points. One was about one person doing two jobs. To paraphrase him, he asked how that would work and why it was appropriate. He also mentioned conflicts of interest and asked why it was necessary and appropriate for the Secretary of State should have these powers.

To his first point, the clause is about driving greater integration. During my time as a member of Westminster City Council many years ago, we had a joint appointment. Our director of public health, if I recall correctly, was also an NHS appointment and she sat in both organisations in the senior management structure. It was extremely effective. Conflicts of interest, as we would envisage here, were managed both within the system and in accordance with guidance and principles of appointments and appropriate governance. That worked extremely well. It was not so much one person doing two jobs, but where the job was needed and the job description fitted both organisations, it delivered a real synergy and better outcomes.

There are circumstances where it can work. I would not have envisaged it being used essentially so that one person has multiple roles and jobs, but there are occasions when there is a benefit from someone sitting jointly in two organisations to help drive that integration and shared understanding. We can create, as we are doing here, mechanisms and structures to help drive integration and co-operation, but as the hon. Member for Nottingham North will know, and as the hon. Member for Bristol South will know from her time in the NHS, we can have those structures, but ensuring that organisations work effectively often relies on individuals, personal relationships and the trust that builds up at that level.

Photo of Karin Smyth Karin Smyth Labour, Bristol South

My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston asked about care trusts, and the clause is partly designed for just that. The real problem with the clause and with joint appointments is that we already know that there are probably not enough senior, experienced people to go around to manage the difficult job of running a large hospital. The issue is ultimately about the focus on those hospitals and, indeed, on patient safety. The job of a chief executive of an NHS trust or foundation trust is an absolutely critical and quite busy one, but we are encouraging those people to take on an ICB leadership role, or joint roles in a local authority. We can either accept that those are large organisations that require particularly skilled people whom we pay properly, or we can simply merge the organisations. I would go for the former option. There are not enough of those people to go around. There is not enough variety of people. We are not encouraging the pipeline of talent, and we are not diversifying enough, and that is reflected in the NHS looking inward at itself. It is a big mistake to accept that we must have those joint appointments to bring the NHS together and make organisations collaborate.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, but those joint appointments have always gone on—they have existed for many years. The example I referred to was in about 2008 or 2009, and it worked extremely well, as both organisations benefited from that individual being a part of both. Our clauses seek to ensure that those joint appointments work well and effectively.

The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston asked why the powers sit with the Secretary of State rather than with the local NHS or NHS England. I am afraid that he will not tempt me into naming any particular local authorities or otherwise. The NHS is a critical part of our health and care system, but integration and co-operation need to go beyond the NHS itself, encompassing the role of local authorities in this space, which we all recognise. I hope that that co-operation will be consensual and voluntary, as the hon. Gentleman said, but it is important that the Secretary of State, with his accountability to this place and to the public, sits above that system. I would argue that he is in the best position to offer guidance on how that system can co-operate, and to help to resolve matters.

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

One of the things that we have been told consistently is that integration and joint working are already well under way on the ground, and that the Bill is, in part, just putting a legislative seal on that work. If that is correct, why does the Secretary of State need those additional powers?

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

Because we wish to take the opportunity to further drive forward the integration. The system has evolved, but we want to be more ambitious. The powers reflect the fact that the Secretary of State is able to take that wide perspective to most effectively see those two organisations coming together at a macro level—at the national level. That does not mean that I am denigrating in any way the evolution that is already occurring voluntarily in a whole range of areas around the country.

I sense that the hon. Gentleman is still unconvinced by joint appointments, so I will say a little more about them before I conclude, although I might still leave him unconvinced. There are already very few prohibitions on joint appointments, and we see an increasing number of them. In some cases, however, there could be a perception, or a reality, of a potential conflict of interest that could be difficult to manage or could lead to a perception of bias. We recognise that, which is why we have proposed the power to issue guidance to help organisations make the right joint appointments and to help them understand what factors to consider when deciding whether to proceed down the route of a joint appointment. The new powers for NHS England to issue guidance will ensure that there is a clear set of criteria against which to judge joint appointments when considering whether to make one. Bodies will have to have due regard to that guidance. I believe that the powers are proportionate.

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

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again. One of the critiques that we have developed —I hope that he has noticed—is that the Secretary of State has given himself an awful lot of powers and abilities to intervene. It seems highly incongruous that in the specific example of joint appointments, where there would be a clear role for the Secretary of State to intervene, he has not availed himself of the opportunity to do so.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 12:45 pm, 23rd September 2021

As with so much else in the Bill, we are trying to future-proof it. Indeed, the shadow Minister and others made the point in a different context. Where are the powers? What are the options if there is disagreement, a dispute or a conflict? While not anticipating conflict, we are seeking to ensure that the Secretary of State is able to issue guidance to resolve any conflict or issues that may arise in that context. It is a pragmatic and proportionate measure to ensure that any such risks can be managed.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 63 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 64 and 65 ordered to stand part of the Bill.