Clause 121 - Regulation of local authority functions relating to adult social care

Health and Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 26th October 2021.

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Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) 2:30 pm, 26th October 2021

I beg to move amendment 145, in clause 121, page 102, line 40, at end insert—

“(11A) When conducting a review under subsection (1), the Commission must ensure the direct involvement of both users and providers of services.”

This amendment creates an explicit requirement for service users’ and providers’ involvement in the reviews and assessments that the new Part 46A creates.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government new clause 60—Default powers of Secretary of State in relation to adult social care.

Government new clause 61—Care Quality Commission’s powers in relation to local authority failings.

Clause stand part.

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

We have been at this now for the best part of a couple of months. This is our 16th session. Some of the faces have changed but largely it is the same group of people. We have reached clause 121 of the Health and Care Bill and we have finally found the bit that is about care. It is amazing—you had to not blink or you might have missed it. But I would not get too excited; it is only two clauses, and neither comes anywhere near addressing the problems we face in our nation’s social care.

The national Government’s cuts to local authorities over the past decade have had a devastating impact, particularly around social care. They have led to rationed care and poor quality care. They have led to care being devalued as a profession and to providers being unable to retain their staff. As a result, we see short visits and a constant changing cast of carers, and we know that is bad for all those individuals receiving support. That is the story across all our communities, and it is worsening as we go.

Clause 121 proposes that the Care Quality Commission will now make a general assessment of the quality of a local authority’s offering for those needing care. Once those reports start coming back, I have no doubt they will make very difficult reading for many parts of the country, if not all, because they will lay bare the issues that I talk about. I do not have any problem with inspection and public assessment of the quality of care services. I do not have any problem understanding this at a local authority level rather than provider by provider. My constituents, and people across the country, deserve excellent services, and I can see how these things work in support of that goal. What I do worry about is that this will be just another way for the Government to passport blame to hard-pressed local authorities that are doing their best but are simply not adequately funded to do their job. That is the reality in this country today.

Amendment 145 seeks to improve clause 121 a little, in line with our broader efforts throughout the Bill, because we want to see service users at the heart of the health and care system as genuine shapers of what happens to them in their lives and their community. We want to make sure that those with the greatest stake and the greatest expertise by experience have the chance to be part of the process, as set out in clause 121, and to talk about their experiences in their community and about how things might be done better, because they hold so many of the answers to the challenges we face. That is a moderate but important ask and I hope the Minister will support it in the Bill or make a commitment that it will follow in the guidance that will be issued to the Care Quality Commission.

Similarly, we should seek the voice of providers, for a couple of reasons. First, they know what the successes and challenges are in their local system, and they know about the hard conversations they have with commissioners, which ought to be conversations about an individual’s needs but are, inevitably, rationing decisions. Secondly, and this them gives a special insight, many if not most—probably the vast majority—of these providers work across multiple local authorities, giving them a rich picture of the differences in approach, availability of care and similar. That is a rich contribution. We strongly think that those two voices should be heard, and the amendment is a good way of doing that.

Turning to Government new clauses 60 and 61, I express my gratitude to the Minister for his correspondence on them to give the Committee a sense of where the Government seek to go, but he was not quite able to provide comfort. New clause 60 is a mess constitutionally. It allows the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care greater powers over local authority social care functions, including giving him powers to talk about failures and directions. First, local authority accountability is to its public. We know that, every four years, we have elections. Beyond that, exceptionally and rarely, the Secretary of State who leads for local government—I know they have taken “local government” out of the name, but there is still one in whatever the Department is calling itself now—can take action in instances where the local authority is deemed to be failing in its duties to its population. The Secretary of State can put in directions, support and, as we have seen, even commissioners. That is a well-established process, but the clause inserts the Secretary of State for Health and Social and Care into this arrangement, which is a considerable overreach. It gives the Secretary of State a power to impose themselves on local authorities in a way that I do not think is welcome. At the bare minimum, it ought to be something that is exercised by the colleague of the Secretary of State who leads on local government in ways that are already well established, rather than creating another actor in the piece.

That leads us to the continued pattern that we have seen throughout the Bill. I am afraid that integration is a bit of a myth, but where there is any, it is largely that the health service ought to have more power and, more importantly, that the Secretary of State ought to have more power over telling local government what to do. There is no equivalent or supporting ability for local authorities to impact on the decisions taken by the Secretary of State. That creates a mismatch, which is really undesirable. I am keen to hear from the Minister why it was decided that the Secretary of State needed direct access to do that, when they could perhaps have worked better through their colleague, who does it more conventionally on a day-by-day basis.

New clause 61 dispenses with the Care Quality Commission’s ability to issue a notice of failure to a local authority in England. Again, when taken with new clause 60, my suspicion is that that is because the Secretary of State is in charge now. The commissioners and inspectors may be there to give some helpful evidence but, in reality, it is the Secretary of State who will command and control the system. That might be deemed adequate by the Government with regards to the health service, but I do not think it is adequate in local government, given the mandate that our councillors get from their population.

We cannot support the new clauses. We will not oppose clause 121, because there needs to be some oversight in the new environment that the Government are seeking to create, but I have no doubt that we will have to find a better way to do that in years to come. In the meantime, I hope that we can at least enhance that with amendment 145.

Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe)

I rise to support amendment 145 but also to echo the comments of the Labour Front Bench about how far we have to go into the Bill, which is called a Health and Care Bill, before we hear anything about care. I think that all of us with any interest in social care have recognised the challenges within the sector over the past 18 months, which have been laid bare by the pandemic. What needs to come out is a much more radical approach to social care, including closing what is thought to be between a £6 billion and £8 billion funding gap in England every year.

In Scotland, we spend over 43% more per head on social care than in England, and that provides free personal care to people who are resident in Scotland. We fund the real living wage, which helps to begin to tackle the workforce issues, but the deeper issue facing all four nations is that we need a different approach to social care. The Feeley review, which the Scottish Government commissioned last autumn, highlighted the fact that we constantly talk about social care as a burden, and about how much it costs, instead of realising that almost half of those receiving care are people of working age. We must recognise the importance of social care for both younger and older people, recognise it as a human rights issue, and recognise it as funding to allow people to participate in the society in which they live. We need to turn that around, which means that we need to change the approach to the staff who deliver it.

Workforce is the biggest single problem. It is unfortunately much worse since we left the EU—certainly in parts of rural Scotland, where up to 30% of care workers were European citizens. We need to develop care as a profession. It is a registered profession in Scotland, but the staff need to be treated as professionals with career development, so that people come into social care for a lifetime, not just until they get a job on the checkout in Tesco. I appreciate clause 121, but it is not remotely radical enough. In something called the Health and Care Bill it is very small considering the mountain that has to be climbed.

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 2:45 pm, 26th October 2021

I do not think it is an entirely fair reflection to ask why it is taking so long to get to social care reform. We have already had debates about integrated care systems, integrate care partnerships and the integrated care board; a key element of that was about local government working with the NHS in the social care space, so that is a slightly unfair characterisation. Members will have heard the Prime Minister set out his ambitious plan to fix social care and waiting lists, with more to follow.

Clause 121 inserts proposed new section 46A into the Health and Social Care Act 2008, introducing a new legal duty for the CQC to review and make an assessment of the performance of local authorities in exercising certain regulated care functions related to adult social care. As part of the new legal duty, the commission will be required to publish a report of its assessment. The specific regulated care functions that local authorities will be assessed against will be set out in secondary legislation. These reviews will be informed by objectives and priorities set by the Secretary of State and will reflect indicators of quality and methodology devised by the commission and approved by the Secretary of State.

The commission may choose to revise the quality indicators and the statement describing the methodology periodically, or do so under the Secretary of State’s direction. In order to provide transparency, the commission must publish the objectives and priorities, the quality indicators that will inform assessments, and the statement describing the methodology. This new duty is crucial in increasing assurance and transparency about how local authorities are delivering critical adult social care responsibilities, on which so many people rely.

Amendment 145 would alter the proposed duty under proposed new section 46A of the Health and Social Care Act 2008, to require the Care Quality Commission directly to involve service users and providers when undertaking reviews of local authorities’ regulated care functions. I understand the spirit behind this amendment and sympathise with its aims. It is our intention that reviews by the CQC should draw upon a wide range of information and perspectives from the sector, including from providers and service users.

However, I do not feel this cause is best advanced through acceptance of this amendment. The views of people who use services, and the providers of those services, are already central to the way in which the CQC regulates. The CQC has a proven record of hearing a wide range of views since its creation over 10 years ago, both when it develops its methodology and when it assesses quality and safety in services. That is supported by section 4 of the Health and Social Care Act 2008, which places a duty on the CQC when performing its functions to have regard to views expressed by or on behalf of members of the public about health and social care services, and to the experiences of people who use health and social care services, and their families and friends.

Reviews under proposed new section 46A are not due to commence until 2023-24. As the CQC designs its approach to reviewing local authority performance before then, it will work closely with people who use health and social care services, their families, health and social care providers and the organisations that represent them, as well as other key stakeholders to ensure that its regulation is properly informed by a diverse range of views.

More detailed information on how local authorities’ reviews will be undertaken will be provided in a method statement, which the CQC must develop and the Secretary of State will approve. Section 46A(8) requires the CQC to produce a method statement outlining the method that it proposes to use in reviewing local authorities. This statement is a more appropriate place to set out operational details such as when and how providers and service users will be involved—the shadow Minister made a point about whether it would be guidance and whether it should be in the legislation.

I would like to further reassure right hon. and hon. Members, given the CQC’s publication of its new strategy, “The world of health and social care is changing. So are we” and “A new strategy for the changing world of health and social care” in May this year. That sets out a bold new approach to regulation, underpinned by a focus on what good and outstanding person-centred care looks like, and smarter use of data and intelligence. The CQC consulted on the strategy earlier this year, receiving more than 790 responses from people who use services, the public and voluntary groups and almost 400 from commissioning bodies and service providers. For the reasons that I have given, I would encourage the shadow Minister to consider withdrawing his amendment.

Let me turn to the relevant clause. Demographic change has resulted in more people having care and support needs, and we expect that trend to continue for the foreseeable future. As social care affects a greater number of people at some point during their lives, it is important that there is a transparent system through which local authorities can be held to account by their populations for delivering the right kind of care—I take the point, which I think the hon. Member for Nottingham North was making, about democratic elections, essentially, forming a key part of that; I do not disagree, but I believe it is important that there is a mechanism to assess quality of care in this context, and the best outcomes within the resources available. The measure delivers on that aim by requiring that assessment of how local authorities are delivering critical adult social care functions.

I believe that this new level of insight will support local authorities to understand what they are doing well and what they could do better. It will also help the Department to understand what is happening, forming an overarching national picture alongside the local-level assessments. I do not believe it challenges the parallel strands, which we have talked about before—the different approaches in a national health service versus local authority social care provision. I do not believe it threatens democratic oversight, either.

Turning to Government new clauses 60 and 61, new clause 60 provides the Secretary of State with powers to intervene where local authorities are failing to discharge their functions under part 1 of the Care Act 2014 to an acceptable standard. This will form one part of a new approach to assurance and support for local authorities, which will underpin our efforts to improve outcomes for people receiving care and support. Our new power of intervention will sit alongside this statutory CQC assurance framework. Where issues are identified, our priority will be to support local authorities to lead their own improvement. However, where CQC assessment identifies a persistent and serious risk to people’s wellbeing and local authorities are unable to lead their own improvement, it is right that the Government have powers to step in and help secure that improvement.

We will intervene using the most proportionate and appropriate tools available. That might include requiring local authorities to report to an improvement panel or co-operate with improvement advisers nominated by the Department of Health and Social Care. We have ruled out the use of independent trusts, whereby services are removed from local authority control and transferred to an independent charity or a commercial organisation. We will of course engage partners in the sector to finalise our approach, with additional detail to be set out in the forthcoming White Paper. Where necessary, the new clause gives the Secretary of State, or an individual nominated by the Secretary of State, power to take over the exercise of specified adult social care functions of a local authority.

In the light of our new approach to assurance and support, we are making changes to section 50 of the Health and Social Care Act 2008 through new clause 61. Where the CQC identifies failure, it may make recommendations to local authorities. It must also notify the Secretary of State of the failure and advise him on possible next steps to secure improvement. Because we are creating bespoke powers relating to adult social care services, we are taking adult social care functions under part 1 of the Care Act out of the scope of the existing powers of intervention under section 7D of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970.

Our intervention amendments are key to ensuring that people can expect high-quality care, regardless of where they live; without clause 121, we would continue to lack a strong understanding of local authority performance, good practice and pioneering approaches that can support local authorities to meet the needs of those who rely on them for social care. I therefore commend the clause and the Government new clauses to the Committee.

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

I am grateful for the contribution from the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire. I completely agreed with her point that, fundamentally, the No. 1 basic issue is a complete lack of investment, as we have seen over the last decade. Everything else after that becomes just tinkering around the edges, and there has been too much of that in this legislation. I share the hon. Member’s enthusiasm for taking a different approach—to stop treating social care as a burden and to understand our responsibility to working-age adults, but also to older people, and the investment and the national good of investing to ensure that those people can live independent lives and can reach their potential and do what they want to do. That we do not prioritise that in this country is a profound sadness.

Perhaps I was a little glib in the point that I made about the two clauses, and I am conscious that the Minister thinks that was unfair. He talked about other examples in which carers feature in the Bill. The reality is that each time it is about how care affects and reflects on the national health service. It is never about social care; it is about what the health service needs with regard to social care. Those two things are not the same. The point is that the Bill, for better or worse—we are not very enthusiastic about it—has 120-odd clauses about reforming the national health service and two clauses about reforming social care.

The problem is that for 11 years, or certainly for my entire four and a half years in Parliament, the Government have been promising a social care Green Paper that never comes. It is in a desk. It has supposedly been written for many years, but it never sees the light of day. Our failure adequately to grasp social care is really bad for society and terrible for the health service. That is why I made that point. How many more health service Acts do we have to see before someone finally tries to grab hold of social care? The reality is that we will have to see a change of Government for that to happen meaningfully.

The Minister’s comments on amendment 145 provided great comfort, so I will not press it to a Division. On the point that he made about needing a mechanism in cases where a local authority fails, in the most exceptional cases I agree with that, but what do we do when national Government fails? National Government have failed on that point for 11 years. The answer is that we wait until the next general election and try to persuade people. We have failed to do that three times in that period. That is right, but it also applies to local government, so I would not want to see that overused. I think I have made my point on Government new clauses 60 and 61, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment 147, in clause 121, page 102, line 46, leave out “or”.

This amendment is consequential on NC59.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendment 148.

Government new clause 59—Care Quality Commission reviews etc of integrated care system.

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

We tabled the amendments following the publication of recommendations by the Health and Social Care Committee on the Bill. The Committee recommended that the Care Quality Commission be given a role in assessing integrated care systems—the umbrella term, of course, for integrated care boards, local authorities and their system partners working collectively. We agree entirely; indeed, I thank the Committee for championing that agenda. The intention is for those reviews to provide the public and the system with independent assurance of how their ICS area is performing, and in particular the effectiveness of joined-up working and integration. Those reviews will be a valuable way to improve the services provided and encourage the effective joint working that the Bill enables.

Photo of Edward Timpson Edward Timpson Conservative, Eddisbury

I welcome the involvement of the CQC in reviewing the work and impact of the new integrated care systems, but other parts of public service provision, particularly children’s services, are regulated by other bodies—Ofsted, in the case of children’s social care. Can the Minister reassure me, either now or at a later stage, that those bodies will be involved in the initial discussions about what the reviews will look like, and how Ofsted may be able to provide input to ensure that the review encompasses all aspects of regulation and inspection that will touch on the ICSs.

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

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. He is right that we must not at any point forget the interest of children and families in the context of the services being provided. I hope that I can give him the reassurance that he seeks. I certainly envisage that, as we draw up the system, and as what we are proposing becomes designed and operationalised, the process would encompass close co-operation with Ofsted and other relevant bodies to ensure that it does the job that it is intended to, and that no one falls through the cracks—for want of a better way of putting it—in that regime.

Our approach builds on the existing role of the CQC as the independent regulator of health and adult social care in England. Under the Health and Social Care Act 2008, it already reviews individual providers of health and social care. This Bill expands its role, as under clause 121 it will also have a duty to review and assess the performance of local authorities in delivering their adult social care functions under part 1 of the Care Act 2014.

Amendment 147 takes the logical next step by giving the CQC a duty to review integrated care systems. It will allow the CQC to look broadly across the system to review how integrated care boards, local authorities and providers of health, public health and adult social care services are working together to deliver safe, high-quality and integrated care to the public. That will include the role of the integrated care partnership. The experience of, and outcomes for, people who use health and care services will be central to the reviews, especially when people experience gaps between services that impact on their health and care outcomes. The work will provide valuable information to the public on the quality of health and care in their area and will review progress against our aspirations for delivering better, more joined-up care across the system.

The proposed reviews differ from those focusing on a single provider or local authority as they will look at how the entire health and care system is working together. However, we expect that much of the required information will be gathered from the CQC’s wider work. Further, we expect the CQC to work closely with NHS England, which will be conducting its own assessments of ICBs. That should avoid unnecessary duplication and, while the CQC may need to gather some additional targeted information, avoid a significant increase in regulatory burden.

The reviews will focus on how well integrated care boards, local authorities, NHS providers and other system partners, such as those in voluntary, community and social enterprise sectors, are working together to arrange and deliver integrated services, including the role of the integrated care partnership. We expect the initial focus of the reviews to be on leadership, integration, and quality and safety, with flexibility for the Secretary of State to set the strategic direction of these reviews by setting the objectives and priorities.

The CQC will be required to publish a report on each ICS area, ensuring that the public have access to information about the provision of care in their area. We expect that system partners will want to develop actions to respond to the reports, and NHS England will want to consider them in relation to their oversight of ICBs and NHS providers.

Over the coming year, the CQC will use its significant experience as an independent regulator to develop and pilot a methodology for reviewing ICSs, in line with its strategy to provide independent assurance to the public of the quality of care in their area. We expect that that will build and expand on the thematic reviews of health and care that the CQC has already undertaken, such as its local system reviews in 2018 of how health and social care services are working together within a system to support older people. We expect the CQC to develop that methodology in collaboration with NHS England and other relevant system partners, which goes back to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury. That should ensure that the methodology does not duplicate or conflict with existing system oversight roles. The Secretary of State will also be required to approve CQC’s methodology before the reviews can commence. Once again, I thank the Health and Social Care Committee for its work on this matter and for its recommendation, which we are happy to take forward with this amendment.

Photo of Alex Norris Alex Norris Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) 3:00 pm, 26th October 2021

I am glad to see this change added to the Bill. Since the publication of the White Paper, we have called for greater oversight of integrated care systems. We offered options in previous sittings around democratic accountability, which would be our preference, but we may have to settle for this change, which does represent progress. Integrated care systems—in particular integrated care boards, which will be the system in reality—will be powerful. They will hold billions of pounds in funds, and will author and manage care for the entire population—a lot of people. The quality of their work will go a long way to deciding the quality of local healthcare provision and, indeed, health outcomes in their communities.

It is right to have oversight of that work, to have a way to hold systems up against each other and understand where there is success and where there are greater challenges, and to use an established overseer with reputation, experience and a degree of independence—one that the public know how to engage with and contact. It represents the first bulwark against the system working in its own interests, rather than in the interest of population health, which is good news.

I have a couple of specific questions, but before asking them I want to make a general point to the Minister. I hope we do not lose one of the best things that local government does, and does much better than the health service, which is sector-led improvement. The idea is that as we have however many—150—local authority areas in England, they will develop an awful lot of great experience over time and can share it among them. I do not mean, “Here, read our manifesto—we’re wonderful,” but in a day-to-day supportive and developing way, which is better than just waiting for an inspection every four years.

Before I was elected to this place, I was a member peer, and I helped those in other health footprints on the exact point of integration, so I know that established people are already working in this field. I recall that it was at one of these sector-led, improvement-type activities that I first met my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston. That was eight or nine years ago, when we were the future once in local government, or perhaps in politics in general—and look at us now! Nevertheless, the point is that there is loads of really good work going on in the LGA, and I really hope to hear from the Minister that that will be seen as an asset, and could now be developed for all these systems as something that would really complement an inspection regime.

I will make two quick points about the inspection regime itself. Proposed new section 46B(3)(a) in new clause 59 says that the CQC will have to establish indicators. Will the Minister clarify what he means by that? Is it about things we would conventionally understand —outstanding, good, requires improvement, adequate—or similar? Again, this needs to be something the public can easily understand, and we need to be able to understand what it is trying to tell us.

Under proposed new section 46B(6)(a)(i), it would be left to the CQC to determine the frequency of inspection. I feel that that is rather a function for the Department, as it commissions the inspector, than for the inspector itself. I seek at least a sense from the Minister of the frequency we are talking about. I understand that it might be different for different footprints—I think it was the hon. Member for Eddisbury who mentioned Ofsted—depending on how their ICSs are doing at a certain point, but what at least is the broad frequency we are talking about?

Those are important details, and I hope to hear greater clarity on them, but the basic principle that there is oversight is one we are supporting.

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

I will be relatively brief. I am grateful to the shadow Minister, and I think that on this we are in broad agreement. He raised a few specific points, about which I hope I can reassure him. On local authority sector-led improvement, I entirely share his view; I think it is an asset. We are in the business not of excluding ways to improve, but of creating new ways to improve. If we have something that—he is absolutely right—does add value, I would hope it is looked to as an asset to draw on, rather than pushed to one side.

Let me discuss the hon. Gentleman’s other points. On indicators, yes, I entirely agree with him. While we must wait for subsequent developments to assess exactly how we characterise those—we will be doing a system assessment rather than an individual provider assessment, with complex moving parts—I entirely agree with his underlying point, which is that the indicators ideally need to be consistent with extant ones, to be easily understandable and to convey a clear message on performance—be it outstanding, good or whatever—as something that is meaningful to all our voters and to those using the systems.

On the hon. Gentleman’s final point about frequency, I may disappoint him a little in not being able to give quite such a clear answer. I am being cautious because I think it is right that the CQC—when it is given this power, subject to the passage of the legislation through Parliament—can take a step back and consider what it thinks. The ICSs will be at different stages of development in different parts of the country; some will be very much advanced because of where they are now, and some will not be.

It would wrong at this stage to be prescriptive about that frequency. I suppose I would say—we have seen this with Ofsted—that some are inspected very regularly because there is clearly a problem that needs to be addressed, but others that are doing quite well will be assessed at regular, but less frequent, intervals. That does not give the hon. Gentleman a clear statistical answer, but I would expect regular routine assessments, obviously with the facility for the CQC to do more frequent assessments where it thinks something needs bottoming out or where it needs to support such improvement. I hope that that, to a degree, answers the points he made, all of which are valid and important.

Amendment 147 agreed to.

Amendment made: 148, in clause 121, page 103, line 3, leave out “or”.—(Edward Argar.)

This amendment is consequential on NC59.

Clause 121, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.