Health and Care Bill

Debate between Edward Argar and Philippa Whitford
Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the Father of the House, who I believe, in the course of our discussions about whether to accept the Lords amendment, wrote to me, along with other right hon. and hon. Members highlighting that particular case in the context of an open and transparent learning culture.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Government for accepting the amendment. I raised the issue on Second Reading and I can see the Minister smiling at how many times we have talked about it in Committee and in the prelegislative Committee. It is critical that the safe space is safe. Systems make errors or do not prevent errors, so we need people to be candid. I pay tribute to the Government for accepting that, because it allows HSSIB to have a decent start and a decent chance.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the hon. Lady not only for her comments just now, but for her work on this agenda and on HSSIB over many years on various incarnations of this legislation. She has a right to gently tweak my tail that I could have listened to her in Committee and got here faster, but as she will know, occasionally it takes a little time in Government to be able to move to the compromise that often we all seek.

Turning back to the advertising restrictions, the overall policy direction has been set out effectively through last year’s Government consultation response, this proposed legislation and the debate that has taken place in both Houses.

Health and Care Bill

Debate between Edward Argar and Philippa Whitford
Tuesday 23rd November 2021

(8 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

As ever, my right hon. Friend—my friend—makes his point well, and, as ever, I will commit to taking it away and reflecting on it very carefully. He is always very considered in the points he makes in this House, so I am happy to look at it.

I turn to Government amendment 127, which I bring forward with support of the Welsh Government. Clause 127 on professional regulation provides additional powers that will widen the scope of section 60 of the Health Act 1999 and enable the Privy Council to make additional changes through secondary legislation. One of the powers within this clause is to enable the regulation of groups of workers concerned with physical and mental health, whether or not they are generally regarded as a profession. This element of the clause falls within the legislative competence of the Senedd. When the section 60 powers are used, they are subject to the existing statutory requirements in schedule 3 of the Health Act 1999— namely, consultation and the affirmative parliamentary procedure. When legislation made using section 60 powers also falls within areas of devolved competence, it will be developed in collaboration with the devolved Administrations. Orders may require the approval of the Scottish Parliament where they concern professions brought into regulation after the Scotland Act 1998, or of the Welsh Assembly where the order concerns social care workers. In Northern Ireland, where the regulation of healthcare professions is a transferred matter, the UK Government will continue to seek the agreement of the Northern Ireland Executive when legislating on matters that effect regulation in its territory.

The amendment introduces a requirement to obtain the consent of Welsh Ministers before an Order in Council can be made under section 60 of the Health Act 1999 when it contains a provision that would be within the legislative competence of the Senedd. It would apply if we were seeking to bring into regulation in Wales a group of workers who are concerned with physical or mental health of individuals but who are not generally regarded as a profession. The UK Government recognise the competence of the Welsh Government regarding this provision and are respecting the relevant devolution settlement in making this amendment. For these reasons, I ask hon. Members to support the amendment.

Finally, I turn to the amendments related to part 4 of the Bill on the health services safety investigations body. These are the most significant set of provisions found within this Bill to enhance patient safety. The establishment of an independent healthcare body focused on learning from mistakes to improve safety and quality is a world first. For the health service safety investigations body to be able to perform this “no-blame” role, the integrity of safe space is paramount. Without it, health and care staff will not have confidence to come forward, and potential learning will be lost. This principle runs throughout the drafting of these clauses. We have made a small number of exceptions in the Bill—for example, to ensure that coroners can continue to perform their vital functions as judicial office holders and effectively as part of the judiciary. We have also provided for a regulation-making power to ensure that safe space can evolve in line with innovation in technology or medical practice. However, nothing in the Bill can or will undermine the imperative that the HSSIB is an independent organisation or the fundamental importance of safe space to the effective working of that organisation.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

Yes, of course, although I do so with a degree of trepidation, because the hon. Lady is well versed in these issues.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister does not need to be anxious, because he has already heard it all in Committee. Does he not recognise that there is nothing in HSSIB that takes away from coroners’ investigations that they carry out at the moment, and that HSSIB should not be seen as replacing that work by another health body? Adding coroners to it has already created a campaign relating to the ombudsman and freedom of information, and there is a real danger that it weakens the safe space.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I am grateful for the manner in which the hon. Lady puts her points. She is right; we have debated this previously. We have been publicly clear that we do not believe that the exemption or exception should be extended to the ombudsman. She is right that there are campaigns saying we should have no exceptions or that we should widen the exceptions. We believe we have struck the right balance with this measure, while respecting the fact that a coroner is a judicial office holder and has a very specific function to perform, as set out in legislation in—this is where my memory may fail me—the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, which recognises their particular and special status. I suspect that she and I may have to agree to disagree on whether the appropriate balance is struck, but that sets out why we have done what we have done.

How best to achieve an effective safe space is complex and the current drafting has been arrived at through years of detailed policy work, including pre-legislative scrutiny before the Health Service Safety Investigations Bill was introduced in the other place in autumn 2019. The issue was also debated at length in Committee, and I look forward to hearing contributions from Members on that, particularly the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire.

Turning to the two minor and technical Government amendments to the health service safety investigations body provisions, amendment 24 is a technical amendment to clarify the definition of “investigation” that applies to part 4 of the Bill. Investigations carried out by HSSIB by agreement under clause 114, which relate to Wales and Northern Ireland, were never intended to be part of the main investigation function of HSSIB and therefore will not be covered by the safe space or other investigatory power provisions provided for in the Bill. The amendment ensures that the drafting of the Bill fully reflects that original policy position. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber will be content to pass this technical amendment.

Finally, I turn to Government amendment 88 to schedule 13. Schedule 13 contains a regulation-making power which allows the Treasury to vary the way any relevant tax has effect in relation to associated transfer schemes. Regulations made under this power will be used to ensure that no unintended tax consequences arise. The amendment ensures that value added tax is included in the taxes which the Treasury can, by regulations, vary when considering the transfer schemes in this Bill. Without this amendment, it is possible that complications with VAT bills may arise when transfer schemes are made and transactions take place. It is for those reasons that I ask hon. Members to support this amendment.

I am conscious that other hon. and right hon. Members may wish to speak to their amendments. I look forward to addressing those that I have not directly addressed thus far when I wind up debate on this group of amendments. With that, I conclude.

Health and Care Bill (Twenty Second sitting)

Debate between Edward Argar and Philippa Whitford
Tuesday 2nd November 2021

(9 months, 2 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise to speak to new clause 70 and in support of new clause 65. I agree with the shadow Minister that these are very much technical new clauses to correct an anomaly. There are three royal colleges of surgeons in the UK: the Royal College of Surgeons of England, the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. Consultant surgeons may be appointed from among the fellows of any of the three colleges. The exams they sit and the qualifications they carry are considered absolutely equal.

The challenge when recruiting a new consultant, as the shadow Minister highlighted, is that the appointment panel, which must review the job description and take part in the interview, is limited purely to those who have graduated with their fellowship from the English college. The appointment panels have a mix of representatives from local organisations, specialty bodies, if it is a specialty surgical appointment, and the royal colleges, so while fellows of all the royal colleges may be involved in appointments to English trusts as specialty representatives—such as breast cancer, which was my specialty—some are excluded from being college representatives. It is often really challenging to bring these panels and committees together.

The aim of the new clause is simply to widen the pool of assessors available to trusts in England and, indeed, as the shadow Minister highlighted, to foundation trusts. It is simply an anomaly that two of the colleges in the UK are not included. The new clause aims to correct that and to make the appointment of new consultants easier for trusts and foundation trusts in England. I hope that the Minister will accept both the spirit and the detail of new clause 70.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to hon. Members for bringing this issue before the Committee: I think we have all received correspondence on it from the various royal colleges. New clause 65 would amend the Bill so as to require that a review is undertaken of the National Health Service (Appointment of Consultants) Regulations 1996 and its most recent guidance. It is important that the regulations governing consultants and the accompanying guidance ensure that prospective consultants are highly capable and safe to practise while not hindering effective recruitment.

The current regulations govern the appointment of all consultants to NHS trusts and special health authorities. Reviewing the regulations only in relation to surgeons would risk diminishing consistency in the regulations. We believe the current regulations ensure consistent standards across all specialties. Those regulations are kept under review, and we therefore do not believe that this new clause would improve what already exists under the current policy. Similarly, responsibility for reporting on recruitment practices relating to a specific specialty would fall to the royal colleges rather than the Department. Should the royal colleges recognise an issue with recruitment and appointment to a particular specialty, the Department would expect the relevant royal college to report on that, which we would always consider in detail.

New clause 70, tabled by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire, would amend the National Health Service (Appointment of Consultants) Regulations 1996 to confer authority on the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow and each of their associated dental faculties to sit on the panel concerned with the appointment of consultants in England. I sympathise with that. The Government agree that including those colleges would potentially be significantly advantageous. However, the challenge is that the National Health Service Act 2006 stipulates that consultation with affected parties must be undertaken before any changes to these regulations can be made. As such, our concern is timing: it would go against normal practice and not necessarily be appropriate to make such a change without consulting the relevant parties.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have no objection to the need to consult. The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow would indeed like section 2(1) of the regulations changed so that its members could be involved in the appointment of consultant physicians. I was unable to consult with the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh in time to allow the new clause to include that. I totally recognise that there is a role for consultation in order to get the change to those regulations right. However, surely with such legislation going through, this is the opportunity to agree to correct this anomaly, and therefore make appointments of new consultants in English trusts simpler.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I think that is where the hon. Lady and I slightly diverge; we do believe that it is right that we follow the normal process of consultation before bringing any changes forward. I hope, in my final paragraphs, I can give her a little reassurance in respect to her intent. I hope that I can reassure her that, although the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow are not formally named in the regulations as relevant colleges in relation to the appointment process, the regulations do not prevent trusts from seeking alternative members to contribute to the process. That does provide discretion to involve these colleges where appropriate.

My further reassurance, which I hope will go some way towards satisfying the hon. Lady, is that the letters and requests came in relatively late in the Committee’s proceedings: I will undertake to review that request with my officials. I will look at whether what we have already got is sufficient, or whether there is merit there that does not require that consultation and those changes—

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I have one sentence to go, so the hon. Lady gets in just in time.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

A trust could include other members of the panel, but they could not be recognised as the Royal College representative. That is often one of the challenging roles, because the panel cannot go ahead if it does not have a Royal College representative.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I hope I can reassure the hon. Lady that in respect of the specific request that the two Royal Colleges have made, I will take that away, look at it and consider whether it works now, or whether there is something we can do. That will be either in this legislation, or following consultation, via another mechanism to address the underlying issue that they have drawn to our attention.

--- Later in debate ---
Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise to support new clause 68, which is linked to new clause 67. We are aware of the impact of the pandemic, particularly on dentistry. Using a drill on someone’s teeth generates aerosols in their mouth, and that would vastly increase the risk of spreading covid to the dental staff, or to any patient who entered the space soon afterwards. Despite that impact, there has not been significant funding from the UK Government for the dental industry in England to fund the establishment of ventilation and air purification systems. The Scottish Government have committed £5 million specifically for this. As the hon. Member for Nottingham North highlighted, the pandemic impact comes on top of an underlying issue, the core of which is the 2006 dental contract in England and Wales, which breaks provision down into units of dental activity. It does not reward preventive dentistry. It does not reward any practice for taking on someone who already has dental issues, because it will not be properly funded for that.

Out of that comes the failure to focus on child dental health and making sure that this generation of young children grow up with good dental health. Scotland set up Childsmile in 2007, and Wales set up Designed to Smile in 2011. There is plenty of data from both of these programmes to show that providing free dental treatment to children—along with supported tooth brushing at school, fluoride coating and so on—can decrease caries found in children in primary school and at the beginning of secondary school.

Poor dental health has a big impact on general health and self-confidence, yet we hear repeated reports of families and children struggling to access an NHS practice. In the last five years, NHS practice numbers in England have dropped by over 1,250. BDA surveys suggest that almost half of remaining NHS practices are planning to reduce their NHS commitment over the next 12 to 24 months. There was a promise that the contract would be changed by next April, and 100 practices have been trialling a new method of contract. According to the BDA, it has been warned of a return to using units of dental activity from next April. This would be an enormous missed opportunity to improve NHS dental access for everyone, and particularly to take the further step of ensuring that every child in England does not just have access to a dental practice, but is involved, as they grow up, in a programme promoting good dental health.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

As ever, I am grateful to hon. Members for highlighting issues relating to new clauses 67 and 68 for debate.

I reassure the Committee that the Government continually assess the capacity of the dental laboratory sector in the UK. It is an important issue, as was highlighted by the shadow Minister, and one we already take seriously. However, it is not necessary to include a specific report requirement, especially as that could focus activity away from addressing the recovery of activity in the sector.

As colleagues will know, and as the hon. Member for Nottingham North set out clearly, dentistry has been significantly impacted throughout the pandemic due to the specific risks associated with aerosol-generating procedures, as the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire set out. The steps we have had to take during the pandemic to ensure the safety of dental patients and staff has led to a reduction in the number of NHS patients who can be seen, although activity continues to grow quarter on quarter. This reduction in NHS dental activity, including for band 3 treatments such as crowns, bridges and dentures, has had a knock-on effect on the laboratory sector. The Government recognise this, and we are already taking steps to secure the capacity of the sector.

First, throughout the pandemic, dental laboratories, where eligible, have been able to access a range of financial support that Her Majesty’s Treasury has made available to private-sector businesses and individuals affected financially by covid-19. Dental laboratories that satisfied the eligibility criteria were able to access financial support through the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme and bounce back loans. In addition, up to September 2021, technicians and lab workers had been able to access the coronavirus job retention scheme, known colloquially as the furlough scheme. The recovery loan scheme, now open until 30 June 2022, supports access to finance for UK businesses as they recover from the pandemic.

During the pandemic, we carefully considered the impact on the sector, including on dental laboratories and their important role, partly through work led by the chief dental officer. We continue to work closely with all relevant parts of the sector. I am happy to confirm that officials from the Department, together with the chief dental officer and others, will be happy to again meet representatives from the dental laboratory sector to better understand their concerns on capacity, what they are seeing in terms of the recovery of their business and trade, and what further action may be needed as we work to recover from the pandemic and safely increase levels of dental activity, for patients, the profession and the industry surrounding it.

Secondly, we are committed to building and maintaining a robust dental workforce and appreciate the important role played by laboratory technicians as part of that. In September, Health Education England released their “Advancing Dental Care” review, which provides recommendations on the reform of education and training for dental care professionals, including dental technicians.

Although this is not directly in my portfolio of responsibilities, I have asked officials to work closely with HEE on the recommendations and actions of this report, including, where it falls into my area of work more broadly, how apprenticeship places for clinical dental technicians are developed, based on an assessment of the role they could play in the delivery of NHS care. The Government are therefore already taking action to help secure the capacity of the dental laboratory sector and ensure it continues to meet the needs of patients in this country.

I turn to new clause 68. It would require the Secretary of State to publish a statement on measures taken to ensure universal access to NHS dentistry. In addition to the actions I have highlighted, I assure the Committee that this Government are taking action to ensure access to NHS dentistry and, again, I do not consider it necessary to include a requirement to make a statement on this issue on the face of the Bill.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I will give way to the hon. Lady—not least so that I can have a glass of water.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is not the least of my reasons for intervening. Rather than just stating that the Government are taking action, does the Minister plan to explain what action they will be taking?

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady is psychic, because I was just turning to that.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am only thinking of the Minister’s welfare.

Health and Care Bill (Twenty First sitting)

Debate between Edward Argar and Philippa Whitford
Thursday 28th October 2021

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise to support what the shadow Minister said. It has indeed been an area of contention for many years not only that nurses who have been struck off can use the title but that the title is used loosely. We touched on the same issue when we talked about regulation and about aesthetic procedures: when these titles of doctor, and particularly nurse, are used the public have a perception of what that means. They assume it means a registered and regulated practitioner, and therefore the patient is given far too high a degree of trust in the person simply from the use of that title. It should be a protected title.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

As has been set out, the new clause would protect the title of nurse by making it an offence for a person to use that title unless they were registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council. I entirely understand the intention behind that; as the shadow Minister and the SNP spokesperson have set out, a title such as that comes at any time, but particularly after the past year and a half, with an expectation of the qualifications and duty of care that sit behind it, and brings with it trust. Therefore, it is extremely important that that trust is not in any way abused. I am sympathetic to the intent behind the new clause; I know it is something my constituency neighbour the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), has also spoken about in recent weeks.

The title of registered nurse is protected in law but, as the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston rightly says, the title of nurse itself is not, given its use across multiple professions, including dental nurses, school nurses, veterinary nurses and so on. As the interim chief nursing officer for Scotland has pointed out, the impact of any change on other groups currently using the title of nurse outside healthcare settings would need to be carefully considered. Quite rightly, the interim CNO said that there is an issue, but it needs to be carefully considered and calibrated.

I am sympathetic to the principle that protection of the title of nurse would be seen as a positive step by the profession, stakeholders and the public. I am also aware of concerns about the potential for confusion in this regard, as highlighted by the petition brought forward by Alison Leary, and I can see the benefit in providing reassurance and clarity to patients and professionals. Given the complexities inherent in making “nurse” a protected title, we need to do further work and gather further evidence to better understand the case for change and the potential impact on some of those other perfectly legitimate professions that use the title.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I recognise that the term is also used as highlighted—for example, “nursery nurse”. However, veterinary nurses and dental nurses are registered professionals, and therefore that is outwith the group we are talking about. I can see that there needs to be discussion around the more social “nursery nurse”. School nurses are also nurses.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

They are, but my point was the difference between registered nurses and just using the title “nurse”. The question is how, in legal terms, we catch that. I accept the hon. Lady’s point that they are all registered nurses. However, we have to make sure that, in drafting, the legislation would not inadvertently catch people who may well be perfectly legitimately registered, as she says, but could potentially be caught if we did not draft or consider the measure carefully.

--- Later in debate ---
Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I recognise the importance of drafting, but obviously the new clause is seeking to establish that the title “nurse” could be used only by nurses registered with the NMC, dental nurses and veterinary nurses—so that it could not just be used as a title by someone who is not on the register.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I go back to the point I made: there are some perfectly legitimate professions—where there is an expectation and understanding of what they do and a respect for what they do—who use that title, as she alluded to. That is why we have to think a little more carefully about how we might do that, and whether it is the most effective way of assuring and enhancing patient safety.

Protection of title is only one part of the protection regime; it is important, of course, but there are other parts. We should also look at prosecutions of protection of title offences, which are extremely rare; we need to look at that in the context of how that might be enforced. Part of the reason for that is the availability of offences such as fraud by false representation that carry more substantial penalties including custodial sentences, which, I suspect, are sometimes the mechanism used to prosecute in such cases. Depending on the context in which the title is used, other legal action could be taken against a person, including criminal proceedings, civil proceedings and employment disciplinary proceedings, particularly where the person used the title to gain work or employment. There is also the opportunity to prosecute employers who hold their staff out to be regulated healthcare professionals when they are not.

To give some succour to the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, we are committed to reviewing the protection of titles as part of the ongoing Government review of the regulation of healthcare professionals.

--- Later in debate ---
Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise in support of the new clause. It is important to shift the narrative from what is often a structural focus on the NHS, and catching people when they fall, to looking at wellbeing and population to allow people to be healthier and live higher-quality lives for longer.

The hon. Member for Nottingham North mentioned the slowing down of improvement in life expectancy and the variation in life expectancy, but the bigger issue is the failure to improve healthy life expectancy. The 20 years of unhealthy life expectancy faced by many across the UK, particularly in more deprived areas, put pressure on the NHS, and we have seen that come home to roost over the last decade.

A lot of those health issues, or unhealth issues, are laid down in childhood. I am vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for health in all policies, which conducted an inquiry into the impact of child poverty. A figure from the Faculty of Public Health that has stayed with me is that the UK loses 1,400 children a year as a direct result of poverty, including by immature birth, small birth weight, foetal alcohol syndrome, fires, road traffic accidents, alcohol and drugs, violence and suicide. That is the number of students in a large secondary school, and if the roof of a large secondary school were collapsing every single year, we would do something about it.

Often, the time to do something about that is in the 1,001 days from conception forward, as the hon. Gentleman said. That means looking at maternal health and nutrition, which is why the early years collaborative in Scotland led to the Best Start grants to mothers and children at birth, on entering nursery and on entering school.

One internationally used measure on the health of our youngest children is infant mortality—death perinatally or in the first year. In 2014, England and Scotland had the same rate of 3.6 per 1,000 live births. In Scotland, we have managed to drive the rate down to 3.2, but in England, it is currently at 3.8. In some poorer areas of the UK, the rate is worse than in parts of the global south and the developing world. That is a brutal statistic.

We talked yesterday about maternal and infant deaths, but this also relates to the attainment gap and other issues faced throughout life by those who struggle in childhood. Investing in early years saves money in the long term. That might be the pitch to the Treasury: if we gave more children a decent start in life, fewer would struggle in the education system, fewer would struggle to get jobs, and fewer would be trapped by addiction or caught in the criminal services system. Instead of picking up the pieces later through the NHS or other public services, surely we should be investing in the best start in life for all our children.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

We believe that the creation of integrated care boards and integrated care partnerships represents a huge opportunity to support and improve the planning and provision of services to ensure that they are more joined up and better meet the needs of expectant parents, parents, infants and young children.

We acknowledge that new clause 51 is intended to ensure that the needs of expectant parents, infants and young children are expressly considered by ICBs and ICPs through the development of a tailored strategy. We are working on bespoke guidance, which will set out the measures ICBs and ICPs should take to ensure that they will deliver for babies, children and young people. That will cover the importance of the ICP integrated care strategies having measurable objectives for babies, children and young people.

The strategy must also set out how assessed needs for the area are to be met. The Department is working with NHS England and NHS Improvement and the Department for Education on the drafting of this bespoke guidance, and we will work with stakeholders in the upcoming months on refining the guidance prior to publication.

As per our general approach to the Bill, although we are clear about the statutory functions that will be conferred on ICBs—as they are currently on clinical commissioning groups—including on children’s safeguarding and special educational needs and disabilities, when it comes to implementation, we want to provide local areas with the flexibility to determine what will work best for their systems. We fear that over-prescribing system approaches in the Bill will make it harder for systems to design the approaches that will work best in their areas. That is why we believe the wording, as currently drafted, is appropriate.

--- Later in debate ---
Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I support the new clause. For a surgeon, knowing that an operation that they were trained to carry out, and performed in good faith, has caused harm is one of the worst things that can happen. I remember how I felt in the mid-1980s when we began to realise the impact of contaminated blood. It had a huge impact on how I operated. I used special diathermy techniques to avoid blood transfusion in all elective circumstances, and that is something I carried on throughout my time doing breast cancer surgery.

In this case, there may well have been doctors who were dealing with device companies and so on—that regulatory declaration is absolutely needed—but there will be a much greater number of surgeons who were using a device that was licensed and was given to them as the correct, safe device to use.

I find it shocking that although the report was commissioned by the Government, they have accepted fewer than half of its recommendations. The others directly relate to patients who have suffered harm, whether that is the women who had vaginal meshes inserted, or the mothers of children who were harmed by the use of Primodos or sodium valproate.

Sodium valproate is still an excellent anti-epileptic and will not disappear, but it is not a matter for specialist centres. It is so widely used that it is critical that within primary care and on product boxes it is made clear that women who are looking to conceive or who are of child-bearing age should not be left on Epilim; that should be discussed with them right from when they are young teenagers, so they can think about the impact later on.

The recommendations that have not been accepted are not to do with reorganising licensing, or a yellow card system; they are all recommendations that relate to women. That is really disappointing. The redress for them—the setting up of specialist centres to try to repair the damage as far as possible—is what is not being provided. The Government should look at the fact that those are the recommendations they have skirted around and not accepted. These women and the children affected have gone through enough.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

It is quite right that we articulate once again the suffering that was the genesis of the review. The hon. Members for Nottingham North and for Central Ayrshire spoke with passion on the issue. We are talking about procedures that had a dreadful impact on individuals and their families.

The Government recognise the effect that the independent medicines and medical devices safety review, and the lived experiences behind it, has had on all the women and children impacted, and their families. That is why, on the day after the review was published, the Government issued a full and unreserved apology on behalf of the health and care sector for the time it took to listen and respond.

I am grateful to Baroness Cumberlege for all the time and effort she put into her report. As hon. Members will be aware, that sentiment was expressed at the time by the Minister responsible for responding to the report, who is now of course the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

The Government published our response to the review on 21 July this year, after carefully considering each of the review’s nine strategic recommendations and the 50 actions for improvement in greater depth. Our response set out an ambitious programme for change that, at its core, is focused on improving patient safety.

The Government accepted the vast majority of the strategic recommendations and actions for improvement. I reassure the Committee that we are committed to making progress on all accepted recommendations at pace. That is why, in our response to the review, we committed to publishing an update on our progress in implementing the accepted recommendations 12 months after the initial response. I know that hon. and right hon. Members from across the House will rightly vigorously continue to hold the Government to account on that. I reassure them that the Government take very seriously our responsibility to implement the accepted recommendations at pace.

Many of the recommendations will introduce large-scale changes to patient safety, and we have a duty to get their implementation right. I hope it will encourage hon. Members to hear that the Government have already made strong progress on implementing many of the accepted recommendations of the review. I will turn to those in more detail, because I think it is important that we update the Committee and the House.

--- Later in debate ---
Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady may be about to agree with me; she is welcome to do so.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

When we debated vaginal mesh, Primodos and valproate in the Chamber, one of the big issues that came up—I certainly spoke about it—was the issue within medicine, with doctors. What work will be done with Health Education England and medical schools to ensure that young student doctors, and doctors in early training, recognise this terrible dismissal of women’s concerns about all aspects of their health? The menopause is a classic, but there are many others.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to raise that. We need to get across, loud and clear, to our future clinicians almost right from the start—from their training and early education—the message that everyone’s health concerns matter equally, subject, obviously, to clinical decision making. I hope and believe that HEE and others will engage with that process in the context of the women’s health strategy. We do not want it to be a document that just sits on a shelf, or want it to look at issues in a siloed way; it should look at them across the piece. Over many years, there have been strategies on particular aspects of health. In the strategy, we seek to bring together a whole range of factors, so that we can look at how women interact with the healthcare system, and how to meet their needs holistically.

We want to maximise the independence of ICBs, so that they function in the way that best suits the needs of their patients and their organisations. We are therefore keeping their legislative obligations proportionate; that brings us back to a debate that the Committee has had multiple times about the permissive nature of the legislation. I agree that appropriate representation is essential in healthcare planning. I fear that the new clause is overly specific and not necessarily in keeping with the obligations on ICBs set out in clause 19 on general functions.

The Bill already puts obligations on ICBs that will help to ensure that relevant groups are fully represented and consulted in decision making. In particular, ICBs will need to ensure that they have taken appropriate advice from a broad range of those with professional expertise. As the work of ICBs will inevitably cover reproductive health, that requirement ensures that relevant groups are included in this work. Furthermore, as we discussed in the opening sittings of the Committee, local areas will have the flexibility to determine any further membership of the ICB beyond the minimum for which we have legislated. That discretion will allow local areas to ensure appropriate representation.

On working in partnership with the non-profit sector and local community groups, I recognise the essential role that those organisations and groups play, and agree that they should be involved in strategic decision making where appropriate. Each ICB and their partner local authorities will be required to establish an integrated care partnership. We expect the ICP to bring together organisations from across health, social care and public health, and representatives from wider areas where appropriate. That could include organisations from the voluntary and community sector. The ICP will be tasked with promoting partnership arrangements and developing a plan to address the health, social care and public health needs in its area. As that will include reproductive healthcare needs, we would expect relevant local groups to be represented. The ICB and local authorities will have to have regard to that plan when making decisions. That will enable more joined-up planning and provision, both in the NHS and by local authorities, which will enhance the services that people receive.

Existing and proposed duties already address the concerns underlying the new clause and ensure effective public involvement. We have concerns about imposing additional duties on individual services. Our approach enables local NHS bodies, supported by national guidance, to decide how best to involve patients and the public in the planning of commissioning arrangements, and in developing and considering proposals to change them, so we are not convinced that the additions in the new clause in respect of reproductive healthcare are necessary.

--- Later in debate ---
Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

On new clause 54, I just want to speak to proposed new subsection (d)—the use of data to assess performance against outcomes. Between 2009 and 2019, there was really no significant national audit of quality of breast cancer services in England, even though some of that audit had been carried out in previous years. Part of that was due to the fracturing of the system from the social care Act. There might be only one breast unit within an area, and quality was left to commissioners. How can commissioners measure whether a local breast unit is treating people properly or achieving the aspired-to targets?

In Scotland, 19 of the commonest cancers are audited; I was involved in developing the breast cancer standards in 2000, and they have been updated many times since. They are assessed annually with an annual peer review conference, where clinicians will openly discuss the challenges they face and therefore will share the solutions many of them have come up with. The clinical things that we know will affect the survival and outcomes of our women in the future are all set as national benchmarks. It is important that, while data would be collected locally, it is benchmarked against national standards.

The Getting It Right First Time project was restarted in England a few years ago but, to my knowledge, although the Getting It Right First Time for breast cancer report was completed at the end of 2019, I have not seen it published. That appeared to be due to the election in December 2019; perhaps the Minister can clarify whether the breast cancer GIRFT report has now been published, when it might be published and what other GIRFT reports have come out.

The problem is that, even if that report were published now, two years after its completion, it would largely be based on data from 2018, and therefore clinicians would shrug their shoulders and say, “Out of date.” It is important that data is used in a timeous manner to audit as quickly as possible, so that the audit loop can be closed and services improved. Having led on this process in Scotland, I saw the change in standards between 2001, when we began the first assessment, and 2005, and it is an incredibly satisfying, not frightening, thing for clinicians to see year on year the quality of care delivered by their unit driven up. There must be national standards, but local audit.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

This new clause would create an obligation on ICBs to develop system-wide data-sharing IT systems. It would also require them to set and report on targets linked to outputs from this system. I recognise the importance of effective IT systems for the efficient delivery of services and for holding systems to account. However, we must set that against seeking to maximise the independence of ICBs to function in a manner that best suits the needs of their patients and organisations.

The obligations set out in the Bill are designed to establish a framework which ensures that ICBs fulfil their functions properly, while granting them as much discretion as possible in how they do so. The provisions in the Bill strike the balance between conferring the necessary duties and functions on ICBs to operate safely and effectively, and avoiding being overly prescriptive in any specific area. By placing too many statutory duties on ICBs, the risk is that innovation and locally led solutions may be stymied and focus may be taken away from their primary function of arranging for the provision of health services.

Of course, ICBs should be committed to improving patient pathways. However, we believe the duties already set out in the Bill are sufficient to ensure this happens. Further to the requirements set out in the Bill, there are already specific relevant provisions elsewhere in legislation. Section 251B of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 places a duty on certain health or social care organisations, which would include ICBs, to share information about an individual with certain persons where this will facilitate the provision of health services or care to the individual and is in the individual’s best interests.

In addition, there is significant work already under way on data strategy, which will have a direct impact on ICBs. The data strategy “Data Saves Lives: Reshaping health and social care with data” sets out commitments to transform the way that data is used across the health and care system, giving patients control of their health data and enabling staff to save more lives through improved care and treatment. It recognises that ICBs will help the NHS to join up data and delivery more seamlessly, working side by side with local government, third sector partners, and the wider health and care system to address long-term challenges, and sets out that each ICB will be expected to use digital and data to drive systems working, connect health and care providers, improve outcomes and put the citizen at the heart of their own care.

The data strategy was published in draft for engagement in June and a final version will be published by the end of the year. It sets out a range of commitments to ensure that health and care professionals have the data they need to provide the best possible care, that local and national decision makers are supported with data, and that data for adult social care are improved. It also includes commitments on every ICB having shared care records in place, and commitments in relation to data sharing between NHS organisations and supporting the underpinning infrastructure in order to ease data sharing.

--- Later in debate ---
Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

New clause 57 seeks to commission, as the shadow Minister has said, a new cancer strategy and to designate a Minister or appoint a national lead with responsibility for enacting its implementation. The Government’s current cancer strategy is incorporated in the NHS long-term plan, published in 2019. That plan sets out ambitions that by 2028 the proportion of cancers diagnosed at stages 1 and 2 will rise from around 54% to 75% of cancer patients, and 55,000 more people each year will survive their cancer for at least five years after diagnosis. The shadow Minister is right to highlight the importance of the issue as something that touches everyone in some way, directly or indirectly. In the midst of the pandemic last year, I lost my uncle to cancer, and I suspect families all over the country are experiencing something similar among their family and friends. That is in the nature of the disease that we are talking about.

The NHS long-term plan contains a series of commitments to support the ambition. It focuses primarily on fast and early diagnosis, raising greater awareness of the symptoms of cancer, lowering the threshold for referral by GPs, accelerating access to diagnosis and treatment, and maximising the number of cancers that we can identify through screening. That ambition was intentionally set at a stretching level. Achieving it requires material progress in all of the long-term plan’s activities as well as successful innovation. The covid-19 pandemic has made the ambition even more challenging because of the additional pressure it has put on the NHS. It is still too early to assess the extent of the pandemic’s effect on that ambition in the long term. We remain absolutely committed to the need to prioritise earlier diagnosis to improve cancer outcomes. This ambition was strongly supported by the many cancer charities that worked with us to agree the priorities for the NHS cancer programme, and I pay tribute to them all.

I understand the intention behind the new clause. The covid-19 pandemic affected all NHS services in creating an environment unforeseen at the time by the long-term plan. In response to the pandemic, NHS England and NHS Improvement set up the cancer recovery taskforce, which provided advice and guidance on the national strategy for the recovery of cancer services. It monitored progress against the aims of restoring demand, reducing waiting times and ensuring sufficient capacity for cancer diagnosis and treatment. The taskforce published the cancer recovery plan in December last year, which fed into NHS operational and planning guidance outlining how the NHS would return to its pre-pandemic cancer performance within the long-term plan. It is thanks to the taskforce and forward planning that the CQC’s “State of Care 2020/21” report says that cancer services have achieved the best response and recovery, generally closing the gap in access on pre-pandemic levels more than any other area, although it notes that this still leaves a large backlog, which the recovery plan is focused on tackling.

The long-term plan commits NHS England and NHS Improvement to speed up the path from innovation to business as usual, spreading proven new techniques and technologies and reducing variations. I therefore consider the new clause, while it covers an important issue and quite rightly draws it to the attention of the Committee, not strictly necessary, because an ambitious cancer plan is already embedded in the long-term plan, with clear plans in place to support the recovery of cancer services from the pandemic specifically. We are fully committed to the actions within these plans and to seeing the long-term plan to its conclusion.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister has not mentioned the workforce, specifically in radiology, which is very much the central specialty in diagnosing cancer. The data show that, once someone has been recognised as a cancer patient, they are still being treated relatively quickly—as he highlights, there is a shorter gap—but the problem is actually diagnosing someone, and the radiology workforce has a drastic shortage.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, who is distinguished in this field herself, from her previous career. She quite rightly highlights the importance of the workforce. Since 2010, in both radiology and radiography, there have been significant percentage increases in the workforce of those specialist professions. However, she is right to highlight that, while we have seen a significant percentage increase, in absolute terms we still need to do more to grow those professions. We have plans in place to do that, but that is a slow task; it can, in some cases, take up to 10 or 12 years to become an experienced specialist in that field.

On those increases since 2010, the Government would argue that we put measures in place, but it is also important to recognise that the previous Labour Government were working on this as well, hence the pull-through; those radiologists and radiographers did not magically appear immediately after 2010. There were programmes in place before and after that, so it is right that we recognise the contribution of the Opposition when they were in Government.

Finally, the new clause also seeks to place a Minister or national leader in charge of that new cancer plan. My ministerial role includes responsibility for elective recovery and recovery from the pandemic—our plan to tackle those waiting lists. As the shadow Minister knows, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), the former Under-Secretary of State for Health, who briefly sat on this Committee, had responsibility for cancer services specifically, as does the new Under-Secretary. Dame Cally Palmer is the national lead as the national cancer director at NHS England and NHS Improvement. She has a distinguished career as chief executive of the Royal Marsden Hospital in parallel. We are jointly responsible for the current cancer plan. It is therefore unnecessary to include that new duty when we already have those accountabilities.

I will move on briefly to new clause 64, which we are considering with new clause 57. It seeks to legislate for an additional duty on the Secretary of State to publish data on cancer waiting lists, cancer diagnoses and action being taken to reduce the number of patients waiting for cancer treatment in England. Again, I understand the intention behind the new clause. Cancer is one of the greatest challenges to people’s health, as we set out. I would like to highlight first the fact that the Government are already delivering on the request for monthly publication of cancer performance data. Ensuring transparency of data is a priority. Each month, we publish official statistics on waiting list data, including the number of patients who began cancer treatment and waited longer than 62 days for treatment. NHS England also publishes monthly management data on the number of people currently waiting longer than 62 days for diagnosis or treatment. The new clause calls for data that is very similar to what is already published, and we therefore consider that it would be duplicative.

Secondly, on the request to publish predictions—that is not something that is currently done. Doing so would likely result in unhelpful poor-quality assumptions or modelling that could lead to expectations or an understanding that is not reflected in the reality of the data that comes through. While we look at all data sources internally, it would not be in the best interests of scrutiny and, potentially, patients to publish poor-quality predictions with a limited confidence factor.

Thirdly, there is no evidence of need. Following the success of campaigns such as Help Us, Help You, we have seen the public seek medical attention for symptoms that might be cancer, while cancer referrals from GPs have been at record levels since March. At the same time, the NHS has been delivering high-quality and innovative solutions to improve cancer care and treatment. We have announced funding for elective recovery, including cancer services, of £2 billion this year and £8 billion over the next three years, which will increase activity and deliver millions more checks, scans, procedures and treatments. We will continue to publish and review the monthly official statistics to monitor progress.

Finally, on the request for the Secretary of State to publish a report every six months on the actions taken to reduce the number of patients awaiting cancer treatment, I should state that the NHS has already undertaken extensive work to reduce the number of patients waiting for treatment and to continue progress in delivering the long-term plan ambitions for cancer. We will publish the elective recovery delivery plan later this year, which will set out how the NHS will deliver increased elective capacity and how cancer patients will be prioritised for access.

Furthermore, the NHS cancer programme already regularly reports on progress through both NHSEI and DHSC governance structures, through publication of monthly data on cancer waiting times and through regular communications products. We would therefore argue that the new clause is duplicative. While I assure the Committee that we are taking urgent action to reduce cancer waiting lists, we consider the new clause to be unnecessary.

Health and Care Bill (Twentieth sitting)

Debate between Edward Argar and Philippa Whitford
Thursday 28th October 2021

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With regard to the free provision of e-cigarettes or nicotine substitutes, the provision that could be amended quite simply by referring to where they are being provided through smoking cessation services, as opposed to where someone is buying them and then dishing them out, or is trying to use them to recruit young smokers. Accessing them commercially is quite different from being given them as part of a public health smoking cessation project.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

That is the point I was seeking to make. Smoking cessation services would still continue as normal. The argument from the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Nottingham North—this is where I might diverge from him, not necessarily in intent but in the timing—is that even if we cannot see this as a problem at the moment, we should act now on the basis of principle. His argument is: “Even if it is not happening, why would we let it happen? We should just close the loophole”—I paraphrase, but I think that is his argument. My counter-argument is that it would be appropriate to look at this, but to conduct further research to develop the evidence base further. Beyond that we have—from 2018, for example—more work to do on vaping first. That is essentially the point of difference.

The shadow Minister might say, “I accept that, but I still think we should do it now.” That is ultimately a difference in positions, not a point of principle about needing to look at this. It is about whether to act now or to do further research. That is the only difference, and the research is needed to evaluate the detailed benefits of the new clause. Also, there is the scale of the issue that we might be tackling. I know that the hon. Gentleman is fond of an impact assessment of the costs as well as the benefits. He rightly, as does his colleague on the Front Bench, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, and you on occasions, Mr Bone—

--- Later in debate ---
Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

New clauses 39 and 40 focus on carers. First, I join the shadow Minister, as I suspect all hon. Members wish to, in recognising and paying tribute to the enormous amount of work that carers, both formal and informal, do. We want to strengthen the system by which carers are supported, and ensure that those receiving care have choice and control over how they access services.

New clause 39 would create an obligation on integrated care boards to collect information, and understand and respond to the needs of carers with regard to their health and wellbeing. The Bill provides an opportunity to ensure the views of carers are properly embedded in integrated care boards. The Bill confers a duty on integrated care boards to promote the involvement of carers, along with those who access care and support, in decisions relating to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of illness, and care. There are equivalent provisions for NHS England-commissioned services.

Furthermore, the joint strategic needs assessment, prepared by health and wellbeing boards, will continue to have to consider the needs of carers, and that will shape the strategy developed by the integrated care partnership and the plans of the ICB. That means the services commissioned through these routes in the area where a carer lives will have considered the impact on carers in that community. Carers UK has welcomed the clauses for recognising

“the crucial role carers play day in, day out supporting their relatives’ health”,

and it says the clauses

“give carers more of the visibility they need within health legislation.”

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister recognise the difficulty in getting unpaid carers to recognise that they are unpaid carers? Particularly during covid, couples may have grown into a caring role without ever thinking of themselves as carers, and therefore they do not seek financial or other support. We need a campaign to try and get people to recognise that they are carers. A project that I was involved in when I was back in the NHS in the first wave used the community pharmacy system to interact with carers who were collecting medicines, and helped guide them to the available support.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I entirely agree with the hon. Lady. There is a huge number of unpaid carers who we know about, and who recognise themselves as carers, but there will be a huge number who, as she says, do not see themselves in that way. They see caring for a loved one as part of their normal life, and as what they do; they do not recognise that they are providing care.

There is also a large, often unidentified, number of child carers. They care for their parents, grandparents and others, but they will not think of it in that way. They just think they are doing their bit to look after mum or dad, or granny or grandad. The hon. Lady is right to highlight the need for all of us—both in government and other Members—to make it as clear as possible that these people are carers and should be able to access support and help. There is support and help available, but people need to understand that they are in that category and are entitled to it. That is a long answer to basically say that I entirely agree with the hon. Lady.

We are not convinced that the provisions of new clause 39 are appropriate for the ICB, as a similar duty to that in the new clause is already held by and imposed on local authorities, so it risks causing duplication. The local authority will be part of the ICB and of the ICP, so we feel that the issue is captured.

Carers already have a legal right to an assessment of their needs from their local authority. Local authorities have a legal duty to meet needs identified through a carer’s assessment where the carer is deemed eligible. In 2019-20—the latest figures I have to hand—376,000 unpaid carers in England were assessed, reviewed, and/or supported. However, the number may well be a lot higher than that figure, which goes to the point made by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire.

We continue to work closely with stakeholders, care organisations and the wider sector to support carers. We will work with care users, providers and other partners to co-develop more detail on our plans for the reform of adult social care. We will publish further detail of our plans for reform in a White Paper later this year, building of course on the strong foundations of integration we are setting in this legislation. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, would have been disappointed or concerned about me if I had not said that, and would have wondered what was going on.

New clause 40 introduces a definition of carer that includes—this goes to the point to which I have just responded—young carers, parent carers and adult carers. It seeks to bring clarity and to ensure that all carers, regardless of their age or their relationship with the person they care for, benefit from the measures in the Bill related to carers. The circumstances and needs of every unpaid carer are unique. Unpaid carers make a vital contribution to the lives of those they care for, and I know that every member of this Committee would want to put on record a tribute to them. It is important that we continue to work to understand carers’ needs and how to best support them, while reflecting the diversity of carers.

I have already discussed the measures in the Bill designed to promote the involvement of carers. “Carers” in this context should include anyone, child or adult, who cares, unpaid, for a friend or family member who, due to a lifelong condition, frailty, illness, disability, serious injury, mental health condition or even addiction, cannot cope without their support. In seeking clarity and inclusion, it is important that we do not inadvertently exclude groups of carers. The legislation as drafted is based on an everyday use of the term “carer”, and this allows for flexibility and the inclusion of all who provide unpaid care, in any shape or form, to a loved one or friend.

I appreciate, and to a large extent share, the shadow Minister’s intention of strengthening the legislation and seeking to bring clarity, so that those who are entitled to support know it, and can claim what they are entitled to. I want to reassure members of the Committee that we have today heard the concerns expressed about carers. I will take that away and carefully consider the issues, and see if we can continue to address them through the wider work of the Department on carers, and our ongoing discussions with organisations, many of which we deal with as constituency MPs, week in and week out, on their work in our constituencies.

For these reasons, I encourage the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston to consider not pressing his new clauses to a Division, but I look forward to hearing from him.

Health and Care Bill (Eighteenth sitting)

Debate between Edward Argar and Philippa Whitford
Wednesday 27th October 2021

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair again, Mrs Murray, and to hear of the inadvertent promotion of the shadow Minister. I am sure it is only a matter of time, certainly if his longevity in his current post and being master of his brief are anything to go by.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire for raising this matter. I will address amendments 114 and 115 together, as one is consequential on the other, and then I will address the clauses. As the hon. Lady rightly says, she has raised this matter with me not only in this Committee but outwith it. I would have been surprised had she not wished to air it in Committee, which is exactly what we are here for.

The amendments would require the Secretary of State to seek the consent of Ministers of the relevant devolved Administrations before making a consequential amendment to any matter that falls within the competence of the devolved legislature. Provisions such as clause 130—she suggested I might say this—are perfectly common in UK Acts of Parliament, and we believe they remain within the spirit of the devolution settlement. The UK Government’s clear position is that, in and of itself, clause 130 would not give rise to the legislative consent motion process, for reasons that I will set out. We deem that a requirement for the consent of the DAs for its use would therefore be inappropriate.

This power will enable the UK Government to make consequential amendments that might be necessary following the passage of the Bill. That includes most of the amendments that need to be made to secondary legislation as a consequence of the Bill’s provisions As such, amendments were not included in the Bill. There may also be minor changes, such as amendments to names of particular bodies—the hon. Lady knows me and the position that Her Majesty’s Government take on these things extremely well—as a result of measures in the Bill.

It is also prudent to retain the power to amend legislation in the event that anything has been missed. It is important for everyone concerned that we have the ability to make such amendments should they be needed to ensure that the legislation works as intended and that we are able to do so quickly, as required.

As I said, this power is quite common in UK legislation, particularly in a Bill as large as the Health and Care Bill, which—as we know, as we reach the end of the current set of clauses—comprises 135 clauses and 16 schedules. There are many examples of similar powers to clause 130 in existing legislation. Perhaps the one with the greatest relevance, giving the most directly analogous example, is section 303 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012.

As a general principle, it is appropriate that the authority passing the legislation makes the consequential provisions that flow from it, as that authority will be most familiar with the provisions of the legislation and the changes to other legislation that it necessitates. We are seeking legislative consent from the devolved Administrations in respect of a number of provisions in the Bill and we have debated those in recent days, but clause 130 does not, in and of itself, give rise to the LCM process. It is the substantive provisions in the Bill, on which any amendments under clause 130 would be consequential, that do or do not, as the case may be, give rise to the LCM process.

Finally, although this power will enable the UK Government to make consequential amendments to devolved legislation, in practice, any amendments would be discussed with the DAs, officials and legal advisers prior to and throughout the drafting process. These arrangements follow wider good practice and expectations of collaborative working.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

Yes, but I am not sitting down just yet, so the hon. Lady will have more opportunities to intervene.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I just remind the Minister that the Cabinet Secretaries in the devolved nations saw this huge Bill the day before it was launched, so although there may have been engagement with officials, that does not suggest that there was engagement with the Governments, which he is saying we should depend on, along with close working.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I take the hon. Lady’s point but, on engagement with officials, I would argue that it is in a sense a matter for officials in the Scottish Government whether they communicate with the Cabinet Secretary. They were not prohibited from doing so. I will not go into the inner workings of the Holyrood machine, just as, I suspect, the hon. Lady would not wish to go into the inner workings of the Department of Health and Social Care. However, that dialogue has taken place since February this year. I appreciate that there has been a slight challenge with that, given the Holyrood elections and purdah, where, although officials can continue to talk, there was rightly a bit of stepping back at a political level so that democracy could take its course. It took its course and the same party continues to run Scotland, so those conversations resumed. My point is that those discussions at official level have been long standing and extensive, I would hope. I suspect that officials have shared elements with the Cabinet Secretary—perhaps not the entirety, but they have been very much engaged.

I hope that that explanation provides some reassurance to hon. Members, although I suspect that it may not. I suspect that the hon. Lady anticipated that explanation, and it may therefore not add further reassurance, but I hope that it does to a degree.

Let me move on to clauses 130 to 135 stand part of the Bill. As we heard in the foregoing debate, clause 130 allows the Secretary of State to make provision by regulations, which is consequential on the Bill. The Bill contains a significant change to the legal framework of the health service. As a result, numerous consequential amendments to other pieces of primary and secondary legislation are required to reflect those changes.

The power is limited to making amendments consequential to the competence of the Bill and is therefore a narrow power. It is, as I said, a standard provision in a Bill of this size and complexity. A considerable amount of secondary legislation will require amendment following the merger of NHS England and NHS Improvement and the change from clinical commissioning groups to integrated care boards. It would not be appropriate to use primary legislation to list all of those secondary legislative changes. Therefore, the consequential power will be used to make such changes in secondary legislation.

The power extends to making consequential amendments to primary legislation passed by the devolved legislatures, because devolved legislation contains references to UK legislation or bodies that may need to be amended in consequence of this Bill. The power applies only to existing primary legislation—this Bill itself, or primary legislation passed during this Session—and therefore future primary legislation may not be amended under the power conferred by this provision.

Clause 131, again, is a common part of a Bill. It sets out the scope of regulation-making powers in the Bill generally and the parliamentary procedure for making such regulations. Subsection (1) provides that regulations made under the Bill may include

“consequential, supplementary, incidental, transitional or saving provision”

and can make

“different provision for different purposes.”

Subsections (3) and (4) set out the parliamentary procedure for making regulations under this legislation.

Clause 132 is also a standard clause concerning financial provision. It simply provides that any expenditure incurred by the Secretary of State under the Act shall be paid out of the consolidated fund, in accordance with the Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) Act 2021.

Clause 133 sets out the territorial extent of the provisions of the Bill. It provides that while most of the provisions in the Bill extend only to England and Wales, a small number extend UK-wide. In addition, the bulk of the England and Wales-only provisions—in particular, the vast majority of part 1—will in fact apply only in England, as they concern the health service in England only. The following provisions, listed in subsection (2), extend to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland: the renaming of NHS England in paragraphs 1(3) and 1(4) of schedule 1; the Secretary of State’s powers to transfer and delegate functions in part 3 of the Bill; and the carve-out of the health services safety investigations board from any legislative provision to require disclosure of information in clause 109.

In addition, the amendments to other legislation made by the Bill will have the same territorial extent as the provision that is being amended. Examples of this include clause 120, which makes provisions about reciprocal healthcare arrangements, and clause 85, which allows provision to be made for the establishment of medicines information systems. A full analysis of territorial extent and application in the UK can be found in the explanatory notes. In earlier sittings, we debated the consequences of the Bill in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and any issues relating to devolution as and when they have arisen. I suspect we may return to those issues on Report, and that their lordships may wish to debate them in the other place.

Clause 134 sets out when the provisions in the Bill will come into force once it has been passed. Most of the Bill will be brought into force on a date to be set in regulations, as provided for in subsection (3). Again, that is a common approach for a Bill of this type, and allows for flexibility. While the Government are committed to implementing the vital reforms to the health service that are contained in the Bill, we will be able to confirm the precise date on which provisions will come into force when it has completed its parliamentary passage—clearly, we cannot pre-empt Parliament. It is likely that it will be appropriate to bring different provisions of the Bill into force at different times.

Finally, clause 135 provides that, once passed, the Bill may be cited as the Health and Care Act 2021. I therefore commend these clauses to the Committee.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I appreciate that the vast majority of consequential changes that might be made by the Secretary of State would be minor, and most of them would apply to England. However, I am sure the Minister will also understand that the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, which has taken away powers over certain aspects of public health, environmental control, infrastructure and so on, is felt in Scotland as a direct threat to devolution. Such clauses are therefore seen as threatening, in that the Bill is so big that it would allow extensive consequential amendments, particularly—as the Minister referred to himself—under clause 131(1)(b), which allows for

“different provision for different purposes.”

Many Opposition Members find the undefined scope disquieting, and we have seen this extensively over the past three years. I would therefore wish to press amendment 114 to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

--- Later in debate ---
Alex Norris Portrait Alex Norris (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is a pleasure to serve again with you in the Chair, Mrs Murray. As I said yesterday, we are grateful for the Minister writing with his explanation of this and the other new clauses ahead of time. That was helpful.

As the Minister explained in his letter, the new clause will simplify and safeguard the process of remuneration where the Government centrally procures vaccines, immunisations or products used to treat a pandemic, as well as other listed products, replacing “special medicinal products” under the previous legislation, in particular when there is significant international demand. That is very topical and we have a rich understanding of it given the events of the past 18 months, so it makes sense to the Opposition and we will not dwell on it long, nor will we press the new clause to a division. However, I seek clarity from the Minister on a couple of issues.

In the Minister’s letter, he cited the risk of wholesalers exporting the products or selling them at a much higher price if they were fed into the conventional supply chain. He characterised that as market failure. Community pharmacies would then be claiming reimbursement from the NHS based on the drug tariff determinations. I do not doubt the risk of that, and it is a foreseeable one, but am keen to hear from the Minister whether he is able to quantify the risk or demonstrate examples in either case. For example, during this pandemic, did that happen at the beginning? What was the cost if that took place? Have there been examples of profiteering preventing necessary products from reaching the patients for which they were intended?

In a second point, I am curious about the arrangements put in place to transition back to normal payment arrangements, once the disease in question is no longer pandemic or at risk of becoming pandemic. Again, I think we would always want restoration of normal circumstances at the first appropriate moment. In his letter, the Minister describes the arrangements as “appropriate”, while the new clause reads:

“Where…the Secretary of State considers that the disease to which it relates is no longer a pandemic disease or at risk of becoming a pandemic disease, the Secretary of State must revoke that provision within such period as the Secretary of State considers reasonable”.

Given that section 164 of the National Health Service Act 2006 also allows the Secretary of State to determine remuneration, that feels a little like the Secretary of State being allowed to mark their own homework. It could leave such measures in place for as long as suits them, rather than for as long as necessary, because the only determination of their need sits with that person. Will the Minister offer some reassurance that the power is for an emergency and is exceptionally limited, and give the Committee some comfort about the oversight and how Parliament perhaps will be given the chance to challenge the Secretary of State, so that the measures are not kept in place for any longer than necessary?

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have a small comment following on from the hon. Gentleman, who was asking for evidence of profiteering on specials. I was on the Committee considering the Health Service Medical Supplies (Costs) Act 2017 and brought the issue of specials before the Committee. These are often personalised medicines. In Scotland, they are produced centrally by the NHS, but there is certainly huge evidence of profiteering on them within NHS England, with hundreds of pounds being charged for simple ointments. While we may not have evidence on vaccines, evidence of profiteering on specials is long standing.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for helping to reduce the number of the shadow Minister’s questions that I need to answer. The hon. Lady makes her point well. We saw early on in the pandemic the challenges of a globally competitive market and the incentives and disincentives that can create around supply. I will not go into other aspects of supplies purchased for the NHS during the pandemic, but we have seen what happens when a market becomes super-saturated with demand versus a very limited supply, hence why we believe the steps in the new clause are prudent.

The shadow Minister will be familiar with approach in the new clause; it was used, for example, for covid vaccines, which were centrally secured and supplied directly to pharmacies. While we felt that supply could be justified on the basis of conventions of statutory interpretation that allowed us necessary flexibility in those exceptional circumstances, we think it is appropriate that we put such measures on a proper legal footing—through debate and, if necessary, Division in the House—to future-proof our arrangements. We are not trying to radically alter NHS pharmaceutical service provision or the payment mechanism. The aim is actually to strengthen the legal basis, and indeed the democratic oversight of that legal basis, through this debate in this Committee, for scenarios in which usual supply routes need to be bypassed.

The shadow Minister also raised a couple of other points, mainly about the Secretary of State’s power and Parliament’s role going forward, if I may paraphrase it in that way. I take his point. Judgments will obviously be based on advice from officials and legal and scientific advisers, but to a degree it is in the nature of ministerial accountability that there is an element of subjectivity when the Secretary of State is obliged to make a judgment. I appreciate the point, which I echoed in my remarks, on the need to turn these arrangements off or transition out of them as swiftly as possible, but we can see this pandemic declining and coming back at various times—that is the nature of the lifecycle of a pandemic; there are ups and downs before it finally burns itself out—and therefore the Secretary of State will ultimately need a degree of discretion and subjectivity in their judgment about the right moment, although obviously they will take advice.

On the House’s ability to challenge that, as the shadow Minister will possibly expect me to say, he and his colleagues and other Members will have ample opportunity, not only at Question Time but also, as I have discovered, through urgent questions, which I have answered on behalf of colleagues in the Government on occasion. There are plenty of opportunities for Members to summon Ministers to the Dispatch Box, or through written questions, to challenge and to probe and hold Ministers to account. I hope that hon. Members feel that this is a pragmatic and proportionate measure to address something we have identified in the course of the pandemic as needing resolution, and in so doing to put it on a surer and clearer statutory footing.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 62 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 1

Prohibition of virginity testing

“(1) A person is guilty of an offence if they attempt to establish that another person is a virgin by making physical contact with their genitalia.

(2) A person is guilty of an offence if they provide another person with a product intended for the purpose, or purported purpose, of establishing whether another person is a virgin.

(3) A person is guilty of an offence if they aid, abet, counsel or procure a person to establish that another person is a virgin by making physical contact with their genitalia.

(4) No offence is committed by an approved person who performs—

(a) a surgical operation on a person which is necessary for their physical or mental health; or

(b) a surgical operation on a female who is in any stage of labour, or has just given birth, for purposes connected with the labour or birth.

(5) The following are approved persons—

(a) in relation to an operation falling within subsection (4)(a), a registered medical practitioner; and

(b) in relation to an operation falling within subsection (5)(b), a registered medical practitioner, a registered midwife or a person undergoing a course of training with a view to becoming such a practitioner or midwife.

(6) There is also no offence committed by a person who—

(a) performs a surgical operation falling within subsection (4)(a) or (b) outside the United Kingdom; and

(b) in relation to such an operation exercises functions corresponding to those of an approved person.

(7) For the purpose of determining whether an operation is necessary for the mental health of a girl it is immaterial whether she or any other person believes that the operation is required as a matter of custom or ritual.

(8) This section applies to any act done outside the United Kingdom by a United Kingdom national or resident.

(9) A person who is guilty of an offence under this section is liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, to a fine, or to both.

(10) The court must refer the case of any person guilty of an offence under this section who is subject to statutory professional regulation for investigation by the relevant regulator.”.—(Alex Norris.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

--- Later in debate ---
Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise to support new clauses 1 and 2. Although this issue would be within the devolved space, as a doctor, I think that any practice that is in essence being called a medical practice but is not for the benefit of the patient is unjustifiable. I have to say, I think that extends to X-raying child refugees’ teeth or exposing their limbs to radiation for no clinical reason; I find that unjustifiable. The difference with what these two new clauses deal with is that both involve absolute violation of women and girls, and therefore they are way beyond what we would discuss in other spheres. Although these measures would not apply in Scotland, they are about things that are indefensible, as are other practices that we have heard about, such as female genital mutilation, and so on, which some have tried to disguise as cultural, religious or other practices. Therefore, I totally support the principle and the idea behind these new clauses.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

While, on occasion, there has not been unanimity in this House, I share the sentiments expressed by the hon. Lady and the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Nottingham North.

I am grateful, first to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) for his private Member’s Bill on this issue, which originally raised it, and I am also grateful to the shadow Minister. I do not always say that about some of his amendments, but I am grateful to him and his colleagues for tabling this new clause, which gives us the opportunity to debate this issue in Committee. I am aware of the work that my hon. Friend has done to raise the issue and I know how strongly the shadow Minister feels about it as well.

First, I want to reassure the Committee that safeguarding vulnerable women and girls is a key priority for the Government, which is why on 21 July we announced our commitment to ban virginity testing in the Home Office-led tackling violence against women and girls strategy, so I think we are of one mind on the principle. I will talk a little bit about the mechanism, the drafting and similar, but it is fair to say that we are of one mind on the principle here. Such tests are, as the shadow Minister said, a violation of human rights and are clearly known to have an adverse and long-term impact on women and girls’ physical, psychological and social wellbeing.

New clause 1, which the shadow Minister tabled and spoke to, gets to the very heart of what we intend to do with regard to virginity testing: ban it. I wholly agree with the spirit of new clause 1; however, I fear that we cannot accept it as drafted. There are several reasons for that, which I will outline. Nevertheless, I hope that in my opening remarks I have reassured him that we are of one mind on this issue, and I will set out the next steps.

By way of further reassurance, may I also say to the Committee that the Government have clear plans to introduce our own legislation, at the appropriate moment and at the nearest opportunity, to criminalise virginity testing? There is work to be done on the drafting and, as the shadow Minister would expect, through discussions within Government. However, I can put on the record in this Committee that it is absolutely our intention to legislate in this space.

While the wording of that legislation will differ slightly from the wording of the new clause, I want to reassure the shadow Minister and other Members that the policy intent and policy outcome will be exactly aligned. Parliamentary drafting is not only an art but a significant skill, and a very technical one. Therefore, we are utilising the best drafting we have available to see how we might achieve the outcome in the appropriate way, subject to cross-Government approvals.

I will also say that the Government absolutely share the shadow Minister’s concerns about how virginity testing is essentially driven by a repressive approach to female sexuality and is a form of violence against women and girls that must be eradicated.

Our concerns about the drafting of the new clause include that it does not specify where in the United Kingdom the offence would apply. It is unclear whether the offence would apply in each of the four nations of the United Kingdom or in England only. That is a drafting technicality, but we think that clarity is important. We are in the process of seeking four-nation-wide agreement on virginity testing in each of the nations, and we are working through options on what that might look like, reflecting our shared view that virginity testing has no place in any part of our United Kingdom, and that the safety of women and girls is paramount wherever they are in the four nations.

Another concern about the drafting is the inclusion of defences. The new clause would provide that in certain circumstances, such as in the course of a surgical procedure undertaken by an appropriate medical professional, an offence would not be committed. The Department’s internal review of virginity testing and hymenoplasty found that virginity tests have no clinical or scientific merit, as the hon. Member for Nottingham North said. There is no reliable way to establish virginity, nor is there any clinical reason to know if a woman or girl is a virgin. As such, we are clear that there is no clinical reason for such an examination or operation to be carried out, and we therefore question the legitimacy of including such a defence in the new clause.

I have set out some of the key drafting challenges in the new clauses and I hope that I have given a flavour of the Government’s thinking. The drafting detail of our policy approach is being carefully considered, with the safety of vulnerable women and girls as our guiding principle. The hon. Gentleman may be reassured that the spirit and policy intention of the new clause will be reflected in future legislation as swiftly as we can draft it and secure agreement to bring it forward.

New clause 2, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham and supported by the hon. Member for Nottingham North, seeks to ban hymenoplasty in the United Kingdom. While the Government share the concerns underpinning the new clause—that hymenoplasty is driven by a repressive approach to female sexuality and closely associated with virginity testing, so it is right that we debate the new clauses together—we also have concerns about timing and process.

After the Department of Health and Social Care conducted an internal review of virginity testing and hymenoplasty, the Government announced in the tackling violence against women and girls strategy that they would convene an expert panel to explore the clinical and ethical aspects of the procedure in more detail. The Government’s primary concern after the initial review was that there was no clearly defined consensus on whether hymenoplasty should be banned. As a Minister, I will not go as far as the hon. Member for Nottingham North while a review has been commissioned, or comment on what that review might say in detail. Arguments have been made on both sides. The hon. Gentleman has a clear view, and he may suspect he knows what my view is, but it is right to allow the expert panel to do its work swiftly and clearly and to use it as our evidence base.

It is fair to say that the overwhelming majority of stakeholders are clear that hymenoplasty perpetuates harmful myths about virginity and could constitute a form of violence against women and girls. Concerns have been expressed about whether banning the procedure could push the practice underground. It is important that the expert panel bottoms out those arguments and gives us a clear basis for proceeding. My challenge with the new clause is simply a matter of timing: it is important that we have the report from the expert panel.

To ensure balance and impartiality, the expert panel is co-chaired by Professor Sir Jonathan Montgomery and Dr Pallavi Latthe, both of whom are well respected in their areas of expertise. Both have extensive experience in this area of health ethics, and it is important that we let them do their work and then consider what they say. We will consider their recommendations as soon as they are brought forward, and I hope that will happen swiftly.

The recommendations will need to be fair, objective and based on evidence, so I hesitate to go beyond that in expressing a view on the substance of the new clause until I have that expert panel report before me. It will be presented for Ministers’ consideration, and I assure the hon. Gentleman—I can see where he might go with this—that the intention is to publish it before the Christmas recess. It is a swift piece of work. We will consider the report and, depending on its contents, bring forward legislation if or as appropriate, considering everything it contains in the context of vulnerable women and girls’ safety.

Health and Care Bill (Sixteenth sitting)

Debate between Edward Argar and Philippa Whitford
Tuesday 26th October 2021

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I will take the intervention from the hon. Lady, and I will address both together.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I want to point out that it is irrelevant whether records, statements or information, all of which are listed in amendment 86, are in a digital form or some different form in the future. We use the words “statements”, “information” and “records”, and the importance of having copies is that the originals will still be available to other investigatory bodies. I cannot see what the gap is. Whether we are talking about an audio recording or sheets of paper, the technology is irrelevant.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the shadow Minister and the SNP spokesperson, whose points are not dissimilar. I take the hon. Lady’s point that statements and information are recognised legal terms and would catch different mechanisms by which they are recorded. We still think it is prudent to allow not only for developments that we may not have anticipated, but for clarity. We believe that the blanket provision gives greater clarity and certainty without the assistance of the amendment, so we do not share the hon. Lady’s view. I suspect she may still wish to test the amendment with a Division to make the point, as she is entitled to do.

Moving on from these amendments, to illustrate the variety and breadth of debate on this subject—we have had a small taste of it this morning—I want to address the argument that keeping protected materials in the safe space would potentially undermine the role of other bodies, such as the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. This illustrates part of the challenge. There are, understandably, calls from colleagues on the Committee to further restrict the exceptions to the safe space. As has been alluded to, others outwith this place argue for an expansion of the list of those exceptions. Some have argued that the PHSO should be on that list. With all due respect to those who advocate that, I do not agree. I do not think it would be appropriate to add the Ombudsman to the list of exceptions. The PHSO will still be able to fulfil its important independent role. It will have direct access to the same sources as it does now when it needs to investigate a complaint. The HSSIB will not in any way limit its ability to conduct an investigation.

--- Later in debate ---
Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I will take an intervention from the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire, because I suspect it is consequential on what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would like to understand what coroners have now that they would lose by the protection of safe space. The provisions on granting disclosure apply to the High Court, not to all courts and not to all judicial positions. Why is the coroners’ court specifically being given the right to access, as opposed to applying for disclosure through the High Court? It will be the thin end of the wedge, and other groups will feel they ought to have a right to the same safe space. As clause 107 allows regulatory changes to be made later, this could continue to be eroded. I do not understand what part of what coroners do would be undermined by the introduction of HSSIB and the real safe space.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the hon. Lady and the hon. Gentleman, and I think the points they made are linked. The distinction we draw with other organisations and individuals is because of the key point that coroners are members of the judiciary. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that that gives them independence in the exercising of their functions, and I will turn in a minute to what the Chief Coroner is doing specifically with these clauses to seek achieve greater consistency.

Coroners are independent and that goes to the heart of their role, which is to determine the circumstances of a death. That is why we believe it is important that their independence, and their existing right to access papers and documents, is not in any way fettered by the legislation. I will try to make a little progress in explaining what we have done with the Chief Coroner, and that may assuage some of the hon. Lady’s fears. I fear it will not, but I will try.

As we know, coroners would not have wholesale access to the protected material. They would have access only when it was necessary for them to fulfil their judicial functions in a clear way—for example, in particular individual cases. We expect that the memorandum of understanding between HSSIB and the Chief Coroner, which will be in place, will set out how HSSIB and coroners will work together to minimise the occasions and the amount of material on those occasions that would need to be shared to meet the responsibilities of a coroner that are clearly set out in statute when investigating a particular death.

Although I hope I have provided a degree of reassurance, I fear that it may not be sufficient for the hon. Lady, who has studied the issue over many years in her work. Our aim is that, due to its sensitive nature, the information cannot be publicly disclosed or shared further without an order from the High Court, which is an important safeguard and something that we have considered carefully to balance the needs of coroners and HSSIB. We believe that we can trust our coroners as judicial office holders to behave appropriately.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

If it is the case that it should be judicial officers, why is it only the High Court, and not other courts in the land that might have an interest in such a case?

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

The role of the coroner is very specific, which is why we have singled out coroners, because their role is to investigate deaths. Hopefully, a large number of the investigations that HSSIB will be investigating will not be about deaths but, to use the hon. Lady’s analogy with air accident investigations, near misses or incidents that, thankfully, did not result in the death of the patient but may have resulted in injury or other concerns. In the vast majority of cases, therefore, I do not believe that coroners will be involved in HSSIB’s work, but they have a specific role in investigating and determining the circumstances and cause of a death. Therefore, we feel that their ability to access it in extremis is the right approach.

The hon. Lady talked about the High Court. For other circumstances, we think that that is the right bar, whether for the PHSO or others, because it is experienced in considering those very complex cases. I suspect, and I think there have been some cases in a similar vein, that the court will consider and debate them over many days because the balance is so delicate.

Because of coroners’ historical and defined-in-statute role, specifically around the investigation of deaths, we think that they are the single right exception in the judicial space. The hon. Lady may take a different view and I entirely respect that, as I respect pretty much all her views when it comes to health. We do not always agree on everything but, like the hon. Member for Bristol South, she knows of what she speaks even if sometimes we reach a different political conclusion.

As I have said, an order will be made only if the High Court is satisfied that the interests of justice served by allowing disclosure in those other cases outweigh the impact. As I touched on in my reply to the hon. Lady, I remind hon. Members that HSSIB will be looking at systemic learning rather than individual cases. As I said, thankfully, many instances do not involve deaths, and even if they do, they may not be ones that are scrutinised by a coroner save in a formalistic way. Therefore, we would not expect the power to be used frequently by coroners at all.

We have included the last limited exception because, as I say, we want to ensure that coroners have appropriate access to information to carry out their statutorily defined judicial functions while seeking to balance that with protecting the integrity of safe space by preventing onward disclosure, except by court order. As such, I hope that hon. Members, even if they do not necessarily agree, recognise the amount of thought that has gone into seeking to strike the appropriate balance.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I still do not understand from the Minister’s explanation what the coroner loses from where they are now. They can still investigate a death, exactly as now, and that was the argument for narrowing what is kept in safe space so that all the original materials are available to other bodies, including the coroner. The Bill adds something extra at the risk of undermining safe space.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I take the hon. Lady’s point, but I do not believe this very narrow exception does or will undermine safe space. What it does is enable coroners to continue to do their job, and if there is information available out there, it enables them to access it from that source. My personal perspective is that we have struck the right balance: if the information is there, we should make it easier for coroners to do their job and access information that facilitates it. I have sat through coroners’ court hearings, and I have seen how families cope with them—it is not the easiest experience for them. If there is information out there that would make it easier for a coroner to reach a swift conclusion, and would give them the information that they need about circumstances and cause of death and so on—the other key part, which is not necessarily pertinent here, is the identification of the deceased individual—I believe it appropriate that we give them access to that information.

--- Later in debate ---
Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I know that my hon. Friend has done a lot of work in this space, possibly involving the all-party parliamentary group for whistleblowing. I know she is very concerned to make sure that, while these protections are in place, the legitimate rights of whistleblowers seeking to disclose information are not inhibited. This provision sits alongside the 1998 Act, but it is a difficult balance to strike, as she rightly suggests. I pay tribute to her work in helping to foster a culture in which people feel able to speak up and bring matters to the attention of the appropriate body to address wrongdoing.

Finally, clause 117 ensures that the disclosure of information, documentation or other items that are authorised by the provisions I have just discussed does not breach any obligation of confidence owed by the person making the disclosure or any other restriction. The clause also confirms that part 4 does not authorise any form of disclosure that would contravene data protection legislation, which is intended to ensure that where an individual is required or authorised to disclose material, they are protected from violating restrictions on disclosure. A disclosure to HSSIB in those prescribed circumstances therefore does not contravene any restrictions on disclosure, removing barriers that individuals may face in disclosing information to the current investigations branch and helping to instil trust in the new HSSIB investigatory process.

Safe space is an exciting and important development of recent years. What we are seeking to do today is a first for a health body in this country. The clauses are of great importance to the new HSSIB and the vision we have for it. The novelty of what we are seeking to do here, building on what happens in the transport space, and the challenges that that poses, are demonstrated in the debate we have had on what the right balance is. It is an incredibly difficult and, to a degree, subjective judgment for Members of this House and others to make. While I have set out where we believe it should sit, I entirely respect the perspective of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire, who has a slightly different and entirely legitimate view. I commend the clauses to the Committee.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

This is the nub of the entire debate on HSSIB. I welcome that the Minister is struggling with exactly how to achieve that balance. I think everyone on the Committee is trying to do their best to get a good outcome. The Minister talks about clarity, but then we hear about flexibility. It is important that we get this right in the Bill. I wish to press amendment 86 to a Division.

Health and Care Bill (Seventeenth sitting)

Debate between Edward Argar and Philippa Whitford
Tuesday 26th October 2021

(9 months, 3 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. We have made significant strides forward in making this easier and clearer for the NHS in recent years, recouping money where appropriate to help fund our NHS. We regularly update the guidance to trusts, which—as the hon. Lady will appreciate—are responsible for recouping funds where a patient is chargeable. They are increasingly consistent in how they apply those rules.

I concede to the hon. Lady, quite reasonably, that there are occasions when trusts do not apply the rules in a fully consistent manner. That is why we have taken steps centrally with NHS England to ensure that we pass very clear guidance to them; we do not believe that this will impose any heavier burden on them than is currently the case. Similarly, in the implementation of the agreement with the EU—again, it would be churlish not to admit it—we have faced some challenges in making sure that other countries understand their obligations to British citizens abroad under that agreement. That is in the nature of the early days of a new agreement.

Anecdotally, I receive correspondence on this issue from right hon. and hon. Members, and there was an increase in that correspondence at the very start of the year: Members were either saying that they had constituents who went abroad and did not receive the free healthcare they should have received, or were taking up the cases of people who visited this country who were charged and did not think they should have been, or vice versa. That correspondence has significantly dropped off in recent months, so with that caveat about it being anecdotal, I suggest that the new agreement has bedded in fairly efficiently. I have not had any responses from trusts saying that the way in which the agreement works has imposed any additional burdens on them that they cannot cope with.

Of course, there are other countries with which we already have different bilateral agreements, so I am confident at the moment that the administrative processes will be an effective extension of current processes but, as with all these things, I keep the issue under review. The hon. Member for Bristol South will know from her time in the NHS that if a trust found that the burden was significant or increasing, it would not hesitate to tell me. Equally, we are looking at reciprocal healthcare agreements here—we are not looking at a whole load of agreements, but dealing with them bit by bit, as we negotiate them, and we are allowing them to bed in. That was a long answer, but she made an important point.

It is time for the Government to build on our significant success in negotiating the agreement with the European Union and our new relationship, and to turn our attention to the UK’s relationship with countries outside the EU, as another strand of our global Britain strategy. That is why we are extending the geographical scope of the 2019 Act beyond the EEA and Switzerland and renaming it, as the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston said, the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Act 2019.

Outside Europe, we have limited healthcare agreements with a number of countries, which support people from the UK in accessing medically necessary healthcare. These agreements do not always provide comprehensive cover to those who need it; for example, a person suffering from kidney failure may be able to access emergency treatment if something happens to them while abroad, but they would likely have to pay for their ongoing dialysis needs privately.

The clause will enable the Government to implement comprehensive reciprocal healthcare agreements with other countries around the world by allowing for the reimbursement of healthcare costs and the exchange of data to facilitate this reimbursement. By implementing such agreements, we can better support people when they are abroad. Comprehensive reciprocal healthcare agreements can help people to access necessary healthcare services when they are travelling for leisure or business. Importantly, they can particularly benefit those with chronic health conditions, for whom travel insurance is very costly—or in some cases, sadly, completely unaffordable. Furthermore, agreements usually reduce the burden on NHS trusts, which would otherwise have to pursue individuals to recover overseas charges, as there is normally state-to-state reimbursement built into the agreement. Hopefully, the provisions will mean that we can reduce the debt owed to the NHS in an administratively unburdensome way.

Finally, reciprocal healthcare agreements can strengthen our relationships with countries around the world and foster greater healthcare co-operation, including on health security and research, the importance of which hon. Members on both sides of the House would acknowledge has been illustrated by the recent pandemic and the research around that.

The clause will enable the Government to implement more comprehensive agreements where that is to the benefit of the whole UK. We will also be able to improve arrangements to make them more effective. Our ambition is for new and improved agreements to be brought under the umbrella of the new UK global health insurance card, which will bring our EU and rest-of-the-world agreements together into a cohesive and visible service for UK citizens, and ensure that people can take advantage of their rights under these agreements.

During the 2019 Bill debates, which I confess to having read, the Government were asked to review the breadth of powers in that Bill after the conclusion of the EU exit negotiations. We have listened to the concerns expressed by the House, and our amendments to this Bill remove section 1 of the 2019 Act, which provided for a free-standing payment power and enabled the Secretary of State to make unilateral payments for healthcare in the EEA and Switzerland—a point to which the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston alluded. This power is no longer needed now that the withdrawal agreement and the trade and co-operation agreement are in place to protect the healthcare rights of UK nationals living in EU member states.

We are replacing that broad payment power with regulation-making powers. These can provide for payments to be made in two circumstances: first, to implement healthcare agreements, and secondly in countries where there is a healthcare agreement in place but the healthcare falls outside the scope of the agreement, and the Secretary of State determines that there are exceptional circumstances that justify payment. This latter element prevents a cliff-edge loss of rights in marginal cases.

As demonstrated in recent months, healthcare co-operation between countries is vital in our globalised world. Reciprocal healthcare provides safeguards and support for those who might find themselves in a vulnerable position, and supports greater opportunity for travel for those with healthcare conditions. As we move into the post-EU-exit world, we are excited to seize these new opportunities for global Britain. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the drive to set up these reciprocal arrangements. One of the big losses of Brexit threatened to be the loss of the European health insurance card, and I am glad that arrangements have been reached with most European countries, although obviously not in some of the EFTA countries; that is still to be dealt with. I appreciate that the Minister recognises the particular importance of that for people on dialysis, who were unable travel under that scheme, as they require dialysis three times a week. The majority simply could not pay for it themselves, nor would insurance ever be likely to cover it, so I welcome the aim on that. It simply comes back to the need for genuine consultation with the devolved authorities, which would be delivering healthcare for those from the reciprocal countries arriving in the UK.

--- Later in debate ---
Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

Amendment 112 would place on the Secretary of State a duty to obtain consent from the devolved Administrations prior to legislating using section 60 of the Health Act 1999, where such legislation would affect the devolved Administrations. Before I turn to the substance of the amendment, I will set out the benefits of regulating health and care professionals on a UK-wide basis. It is important that we have UK-wide standards to ensure the same level of public protection across the UK and to allow healthcare professionals the flexibility to work across the whole of the UK. We value and will continue to work collaboratively with our devolved Administration partners on the regulation of health and care professionals.

Each devolved legislature, as has been alluded to, has its own devolved arrangements in respect of professional regulation, which are a mix of reserved and devolved or transferred powers. In practice, any use of section 60 affecting professionals in Northern Ireland is exercised only with the agreement of the Northern Ireland Executive. In Scotland, consent is required in relation to legislation concerning healthcare professionals brought into regulation post the Scotland Act 1998. In the case of Wales, the regulation of healthcare professionals is a reserved matter, so consent is not sought.

In practice, the UK Government always seek the agreement of the NI Executive when making changes to the regulation of healthcare professionals, and the Scottish Parliament’s consent is required in the circumstances that I set out previously. The amendment would add to that by requiring consent in relation to any changes to the regulation of healthcare professionals affecting the devolved Administrations. In addition, legislation requires that section 60 can be used only following public consultation and the affirmative parliamentary procedure.

The purpose of the professional regulation system is to protect the public. Regulating health and care professionals on a UK-wide basis helps to provide consistency across the four nations and ensures that we continue to work together with the devolved legislatures to align workforce policy. For those reasons, although I appreciate the point underlying the amendment, I ask the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire to withdraw it.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We have had a lot of debate over recent years about whether we are aiming for lowest common denominator or to achieve the highest standard. The concern is about delegating or creating new grades of staff who are not expected to have the same level of qualification or training as the people they may be replacing within the health service. That is not always to the benefit of patient safety. We are really calling for meaningful engagement, which is not what we have seen before. It is important to recognise the impact that it would have on the devolved nations.

I totally recognise that professionals need to be able to work across the UK, but it should be about aiming for people to have the training, professionalisation, standards and regulation that they require and which is comparative to the job that they are doing and the service they are delivering for patients. We spent the whole morning on patient safety. The standard of the staff who deliver the care is the most important thing for patient safety. However, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

--- Later in debate ---
Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the shadow Minister. His points coalesce around a number of key themes that I shall seek to address. He highlighted his concern about why we would do this and the potential disruption of either a lack of regulation in some spaces were we to abolish regulators or of that caused by moving functions. The key point here is that this is about creating a power that enables flexibility in the system that is not currently there. It is not that we have any direct or immediate plans to do this but about creating, in the context of the opportunity provided by the legislation, a framework whereby we could move powers around. There are some points sitting underneath that which I shall try to address.

The current section 60 powers are limited in terms of the changes they can deliver in the professional regulatory framework. We can use secondary legislation to bring a new profession into regulation and create a new regulatory body, but we do not have equivalent powers to remove a profession from regulation or close a regulatory body and move functions without primary legislation. Widening the scope helps us to ensure that professional regulation delivers public protection more consistently and efficiently, recognising the dynamic, to a degree, nature of evolving professional regulation.

On his concern about abolishing regulators, I know the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that there is no intention of doing that. But he rightly asks, “But what if?” It is the role of the Committee to look at that. Were a regulator to be abolished, that would not necessarily mean that the professionals they regulate would cease to be regulated. Current legislation allows a number of professions to be regulated by a single body, and that creates the mechanism to allow those movements and transfers.

To give an example that some might raise, would that mean that the GMC could be abolished? It is an extreme example, but hopefully it illustrates the point. The scope of the power to abolish a regulator covers all health and care professional regulators. However, the key point is that a regulator will be abolished only if the professions have either been moved to another regulator or removed, or deemed to be removed, from regulation altogether. Any use of this power is subject to existing legislative provision, namely a public consultation and the affirmative procedure. However, to take the example I gave, there are no plans to abolish the GMC, because clearly there would always be a need for continued regulation of medical practitioners. Therefore, given that the GMC regulates them, it would continue to do so.

Underpinning that concern is whether the removal of a specified profession entirely from regulation would increase in any way risks to public safety. Again, a profession would only be removed entirely from regulation following an assessment that showed the profession no longer required regulation for the purposes of public protection and that risks could therefore be safely managed, effectively and efficiently, outside statutory regulation. Given the nature of the professionals that we are talking about here, that would be highly unlikely in any of those spaces and I do not anticipate it. Any use of the power to remove a profession from regulation would be subject to consultation and, again, the affirmative parliamentary procedure.

The counterpoint could be why more professions are not included in regulation. From time to time we debate particular professions as new treatments, such as cosmetic treatments, emerge. Given the risks that some may pose, the question of whether there should be greater regulation then arises. Although statutory regulation is sometimes necessary where there are significant risks in the use of services that cannot be mitigated in other ways, we believe that it is not always the most proportionate or effective means of assuring the safe and effective care of service users. Therefore, each situation needs to be assessed carefully on its own merits. We have seen colleagues from the across the House making the case for regulating different aspects of professions, or service providers that have effectively become professional or are providing a service that is regularly used. Rather than a blanket approach, we believe that remains the right way.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I wonder whether, within this, there is a consideration of the issues within the cosmetic surgery and treatment field, particularly the use of Botox and the injection of fillers, which often result in side effects, and the fact that even cosmetic surgeons, as opposed to plastic surgeons, are not regulated in the same way. The problem is that whenever those medical terms are used, the public assume that they are dealing with a licensed medical professional who is both registered and regulated.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady makes an important point. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Laura Trott) for her private Member’s Bill, which began putting a framework around Botulinum fillers and who could or could not access them, with age limits. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries) was then the Minister responsible, but she was self-isolating and awaiting test results, so I had the privilege of speaking in that debate. As often happens on Fridays, it was an interesting and well-informed debate, rather than a political to and fro, as occasionally happens in the Chamber. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire highlights an important point.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) has taken a close interest in the issue, as have hon. Members across the House. I am due to meet her to discuss this more broadly in the context of this legislation. I do not want to pre-empt that meeting and the upshot of it, but I take on board the point made by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire.

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

--- Later in debate ---
Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

A number of points have been raised. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, asked whether we would envisage this leading to system change if a pattern was identified and whether it could be a catalyst for that change. Absolutely—that is part of what we hope would come out of this. I am pleased that we are legislating now on this issue, but the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire is right about the time it has taken. I acknowledge the example from Scotland; I do not always agree with everything done in Holyrood, but to give credit where it is due, I recognise the progress that Scotland has made in this space.

The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston made a number of points generally revolving around resources, fees and similar issues. I hesitate to put a figure on exactly how many medical examiners or what level of resource would be needed at this stage, but I will seek to address his point about fees and resourcing in broader terms. He will know that, in the non-statutory system, medical examiners are funded through the existing fee for completing medical cremation form 5, in combination with central Government funding for medical examiner work not covered by those fees. With the temporary removal of cremation form 5 as a provision of the Coronavirus Act 2020, all costs are currently covered by central Government, but that is temporary. The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 includes provisions for making regulations to introduce a new fee for the service provided by the medical examiner, and any such regulations will be subject to further parliamentary debate and scrutiny before their passage.

On the overall cost, the reality is that our estimated cost will be informed by the impact assessment published in 2018 and the data gathered from the non-statutory medical examiner system introduced in the NHS in 2019. We have seen a slightly atypical year or 18 months, so I hesitate to put an exact figure on this, but we have a broad evidence base from which to extrapolate. It predates the pandemic but it probably still has relevance. I am sorry that I cannot give him more direct data, but I would not want to pluck out a figure for him and then, quite rightly, be held to account for it in due course. I cannot do that but I hope that I have given him and the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire some reassurance on those points.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 124 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 125

Advertising of less healthy food and drink

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 113, in clause 125, page 107, line 12, at end insert—

“(2) Regulations made by the Secretary of State under any section of the Communications Act 2003 inserted by Schedule 16 may only be made with the consent of the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers and the Northern Ireland Ministers.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to obtain the consent of the devolved governments before the powers granted by Schedule 16 clause are exercised.

--- Later in debate ---
Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

This is an important clause and set of amendments, so I fear I may detain the Committee on them for a little while. However, it is important that we air a number of points. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston and others, because when we talk about digital platforms, including in other pieces of legislation and, indeed, in democracies around the world, we are essentially grappling with whether they are platforms or publishers responsible for content. I think it is fair to say that that debate continues in legislatures around the world, which presents a fundamental challenge.

I will pick up on a few questions while they are fresh in my head, and I suspect that I will cover the others in my prepared remarks. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston asked why there is no watershed equivalent online, and how that might operate. The short answer is that it reflects the nature of online media: it is on demand, rather than linear, as with a terrestrial or satellite broadcast, though we see slight changes to that now, with Sky boxes—other online platforms are available for TV—the ability to record things, catch up, and so on. The situation is changing, and is not quite as binary as it used to be, but that is the primary reason.

If it is agreeable to you, Mr McCabe, I will discuss the amendments first, then turn to clause 125 and schedule 16. I hope that, with my extensive notes, I will be able to mop up and scoop up a number of the questions asked. If I do not, I will ask my officials to have a scan of Hansard, and I will endeavour to write to hon. Members prior to Report to cover any points that I omit. I will then address new clause 55, which relates to the clause and schedule.

I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss amendment 113, which would require the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to obtain the consent of the DAs before any of the regulation-making powers granted by schedule 16 of the clause were exercised. As I am sure members of the Committee will be aware, the provisions in clause 125 and schedule 16 on advertising less healthy food and drink will extend to the whole of the United Kingdom.

We consider the provisions in this part of the Bill to be primarily focused on online services and broadcast restrictions, which are not devolved realms of responsibility. I appreciate that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire and her colleagues in the Scottish Government might have a different interpretation of the same point—it is in the nature of the constitutional settlement that such discussions occur—but telecommunications and internet services remain reserved matters under the devolution settlement. The UK Government have made it clear that the primary purpose of the provision on the advertising of less healthy food and drink on TV and internet services is to regulate content on reserved media, internet and broadcasting. On that basis, we hold to the view that it is reserved. The purpose is not incidental—hence our argument that it does not fall within the devolved provisions and the devolved remit—but I suspect that we may return to this debate in the coming months.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I totally recognise, as I recognised in my remarks, that this area is reserved, both as regards broadcasting and online, but obviously the nations consider taking different public health approaches. Given that this is a UK-wide approach, it is important that it is joined up. I totally accept that the Minister is not interested in accepting consent, but there is no mention in the clause of consulting. I would have thought it important that there be discussion of the public health approaches of the four nations, in order to ensure that centralised policy in this Parliament lines up and reflects policies across the UK.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I take the hon. Lady’s point. Although we did not think it necessary to put “consult” in the Bill, I accept that a joined-up approach to public health matters across the four nations of the United Kingdom is beneficial. I expect close working at both official and ministerial level to continue, and I therefore expect consultation and discussion to be ongoing.

As I am sure members of the Committee would agree, the restrictions on advertising on TV and internet services are crucial in contributing to the Government’s goal of tackling childhood obesity, and I welcome what I think is cross-party support for that goal. Through these provisions, we have the opportunity to remove up to 7.2 billion calories per year from children’s diets in the UK. None the less, for the reasons that I have set out, the Government believe that amendment 113 is not appropriate in this context, so I hope the hon. Lady will withdraw it.

I am grateful for the opportunity to address amendments 139 to 141. As the Committee will know and as I have said, tackling obesity is a priority for the House, irrespective of which side one sits on. That has been brought into sharp focus throughout the covid-19 pandemic. Introducing advertising restrictions for less healthy food and drink products is one of the many policies that the Government are bringing forward to tackle this issue. Following extensive consideration of the evidence submitted and comments made by stakeholders during the consultation exercise, we have announced that we will introduce a 9 pm TV watershed for advertising for less healthy food and drink products, and a restriction on paid-for advertising of such products online.

Amendments 139 to 141 would expand the definition of “less healthy products” to include alcohol, which would have the effect of making alcohol advertising liable to the watershed proposed for TV programme services, and to the online restriction of paid-for advertising. The UK Government are committed to ensuring that children and young people are suitably protected from alcohol advertising and marketing through a set of rules in the UK advertising codes. Restrictions and limitations laid out in the UK advertising codes provide that alcohol advertising may not be featured in any medium where more than 25% of the audience is under 18. Alcohol advertising must not be likely to appeal strongly to young people under 18, reflect or associate with youth culture, or show adolescent or juvenile behaviour—I make no comment there about the behaviour of the House on occasions. No children, and no one who is or appears to be under the age of 25, may play a significant role in advertising alcoholic drinks. The advertising codes apply to broadcast media and non-broadcast media, including online advertising. We do not believe it is necessary to consider alcohol a less healthy product in this context, or to apply the new restrictions to it.

As we will discuss in more detail shortly, clause 125 and schedule 16 are aimed at reducing the exposure of children to advertising for less healthy food and drink, and at reducing the impact of such advertising on child obesity. Less healthy food and drink products are unique, as they are not age-restricted at the point of purchase, unlike alcohol.

Health and Care Bill (Fourteenth sitting)

Debate between Edward Argar and Philippa Whitford
Tuesday 19th October 2021

(10 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I will turn to that issue, but before I do I will address the question of why I think this is a proportionate and necessary change in the powers. As we have seen during the pandemic, there can be rapid changes and moves in the functions of those NDPBs, and we therefore cannot have a process that preserves in aspic a particular set of functions in primary legislation. I believe this is a proportionate measure that allows for flexibility around those functions around NDPBs, although in my view it does not encroach on the way they operate, hence the non-departmental public body point that the hon. Lady made. It strikes an appropriate balance.

The other point the hon. Member for Nottingham North made, which shades into the points from the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire, is that where a policy area is devolved, it should be that devolution settlement that takes primacy. The challenge is that, in a number of areas here, we see almost a hybrid of reserve powers and devolved powers.

We will come on to this after we have debated the Health Service Safety Investigations Body part, but it is a good illustration, so I will use it as an example here: if we look at reciprocal healthcare arrangements, which we will come to, the implementation or impact on the ground is to a degree devolved; it is about the organisation of health services in a particular area. However, the power to make international agreements is reserved.

Therefore, in spaces such as this, we come across complex challenges where there is no clear delineation for how to respect the devolution settlement and not intervene in aspects that are clearly devolved, while also striking a balance such that the devolved Administrations do not have a power of veto over a reserved matter. Those are the complexities we are wrestling with in a number of areas here, and I think that goes to the heart of the issues that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire has been raising.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister mentions the UK Health Security Agency, which was suddenly created in the middle of the pandemic—supposedly out of Public Health England, so I am not quite sure whether Public Health England still exists. There were comments made at the time by the then Secretary of State that this would now be a UK-wide body and would therefore override Public Health Scotland. Since the Minister raised this matter, I would be grateful if he could clarify, because that is exactly the nub of the issue, whether they are executive agencies or arm’s length bodies: it is suddenly enforcing a change in structure on the devolved Governments, when our Public Health Scotland is totally integrated with our health service.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady makes a couple of points there. First, on the transition with Public Health England, to avoid a cliff edge—in the context of some of my conversations with the hon. Member for Nottingham North about different aspects of policy, that is perhaps not the best word—in the transition between two organisations, we have had for some months parallel running of the two. I believe, relying on my memory, that Public Health England finally transfers all its functions and ceases at the end of this month, and then we will see that transition. We have both in being for the time being, to ensure smooth operation of the actual functions they perform.

My understanding of the hon. Lady’s specific point about the public health arrangements that work in Scotland and that are a matter for the Scottish Government is that those relationships and that way of working will be able to continue. However, we saw in the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 and the withdrawal agreement a way of working regarding the health security provisions that has a UK approach to working but fully involves each of the devolved Administrations, because we recognise that the threats are national—as in four nations—and we have seen that diseases and public health threats do not stop just before they get to Berwick, and vice versa. Therefore, we are keen to look at this in a four-nations way, and we have just been looking with the Scottish Government at the public health framework and how we work with it.

I am trying to reassure the hon. Lady that there is no intention to undo what works, but there is a recognition of the need for us to continue to work as four nations together on this. I hope she will be reassured that that helps to respect the devolution settlement; I suspect she may wish to probe me further in future debates, but that, of course, is what we are here for. I encourage hon. Members not to press their amendments to a Division.

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

--- Later in debate ---
Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to the shadow Minister for bringing this discussion before the Committee today. [Interruption.] I will talk for a little while to allow him enough time to have a glass of water to try to preserve his voice and mine for another few hours at least. As he set out, the amendment seeks to ensure that HSSIB would be able to make its own decision on whether to pursue an investigation requested by the Secretary of State and ask for funding; it would also ensure that if an investigation went ahead, the Secretary of State would have no influence on the detail of that investigation.

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that, as I said earlier, we remain fully committed to the independence of HSSIB, which is of course the reason why we want to establish it as a non-departmental public body with its own statutory powers. Under our approach, the Secretary of State would be able to direct HSSIB to carry out an investigation, but only if there has been an incident that has caused particular concern. The power to direct at subsection (2) is only in relation to carrying out an investigation; it is not about directing the outcome for an individual. That is an important distinction—we can ask them to do it, but it is not about directing the outcome. I believe that is right for the Secretary of State with responsibility for the health of the nation to have a power to direct the carrying-out of an investigation, so that he is able to respond to emergent or ongoing safety priorities or issues of concern, asking that they be considered.

The measure will ensure effective and proportionate accountability between the Department and its arm’s-length bodies, and between the Department and the House and the other place. However, while the Secretary of State may request an investigation, as I have said, he cannot direct the body on how to conduct any particular investigation and will have no role in it, as he does not have any such power. I hope that offers some reassurance to the shadow Minister. The measure therefore does not encroach on the independence of HSSIB’s findings, which are one of the key concerns that the amendments seek to draw out or shine a light on, so I hope I have provided some reassurance.

In addition, should HSSIB wish to discontinue an investigation, it may determine to do so, setting out the reason why it will not be investigating an incident. That would include any investigation, including one requested by the Secretary of State. HSSIB could discontinue an investigation, but would have to explain its thinking, which is not an unreasonable balance to seek to strike.

To turn to the question of funding, the amendment seeks to ensure that, in the case of a request by the Secretary of State to carry out an investigation, HSSIB may ask for additional funding. We have estimated, in our current analysis of workloads, HSSIB is likely to carry out up to 30 investigations a year, which allows sufficient flexibility to ensure that in the event that an investigation requested by the Secretary of State goes ahead, adequate resources remain.

On the process for the Secretary of State requesting an investigation, the limitations on the Secretary of State’s ability to be involved in the investigation, and the ability of HSSIB to determine whether it will pursue an investigation further, I hope that I have offered sufficient reassurance to the Committee. Therefore, I hope that the shadow Minister will consider withdrawing his amendment.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I want to raise with the Minister subsection (5), which calls on HSSIB to put out a statement on the issues that it is investigating with regards to an incident. However, that is right at the start of an investigation. Is he not concerned that, putting out a public statement of what the issue is at a point when no one has yet got to the bottom of that issue might be putting the cart before the horse? HSSIB might therefore twist the whole investigation into what its initial preconceptions are, instead of finding out the underlying cause.

--- Later in debate ---
Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In clause 100 there is discussion about the response to the report, and that is crucial. If this ends up just being a job creation scheme within HSSIB, it will have failed utterly. Having spent more than three decades in the NHS and been involved in multiple designs, redesigns, stakeholder events and so on, a lot of things get filed in that little round filing cabinet in the corner. Therefore, the response to recommendations and their coming into effect is critical.

I was on the Joint Committee on the Draft Health Service Safety Investigations Bill under the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin), and we went through this in detail over months. In Scotland, our approach is the opposite. We start at the other end, which is trying to prevent. The Scottish patient safety programme has been working on that since 2007— reducing not just hospital deaths, cutting post-op mortality by 37% within two years of introduction, but expensive morbidity such as pressure sores or wound infections that have an impact on patients and on the NHS.

HSSIB is looking at the other end. Obviously, it does not apply in Scotland, but it is something that I really welcome, and that we will watch with interest. I will not go into disclosure now. That will come later, but not seeing action, as the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston referred to, with recommendations that have already been made, simply demotivates people to engage in it all. It is critical that we see a response, and that there is a mechanism to see an answer.

The admissibility of the report is also critical if we want staff to be candid, particularly where they may be admitting an error or something that they regret, and there has been a systematic failure of its being prevented. It is often said that we can design safety nets so that an error that someone makes at 2 o’clock in the morning because they are tired can be prevented. We therefore need people to be willing to admit that, and we need those reports not to result in action against them. As we will see when we come on to disclosure, that does not pertain if illegal action has been taken, but I think the two clauses are critical. I do not see in clause 100, or anywhere, what will happen after the reports come out, and how we ensure that it results in an increase in patient safety.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I take the hon. Lady’s point. As I set out in response to earlier amendments and preceding clauses, I believe that we have struck the right balance on the obligation to respond and act, but I acknowledge, as I frequently do in these Committees, her expertise, particularly in this area, having sat on the Committee that previously considered the matter. I think that we have struck the right balance, but I am always happy to reflect further.

I can give the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston, within bounds, the reassurance, or agreement with what he is saying, that he seeks, with a caveat: I would hope that transparency and publication should be at the fore, but in doing that, and determining the other points that he raised, as he acknowledged that is for HSSIB to reflect on and consider within the context of its independence. I would hope, and expect, that it would consider extremely carefully exactly such points as those that he made, because they sounded like sensible points, as is often the case with him.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 98 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 99 to 101 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 102

Powers of entry, inspection and seizure

Health and Care Bill (Thirteenth sitting)

Debate between Edward Argar and Philippa Whitford
Tuesday 19th October 2021

(10 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I am happy to bear in mind those sensible points as we look to the formulation of regulations. I am grateful to the shadow Minister.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 84 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 85

Medicine information systems

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 65, page 77, line 3, at beginning insert “Subject to subsection (3A),”

This amendment, together with Amendment 66, would allow specified people and organisations who are required to provide information for a registry or information system to provide information to NHS Digital in pseudonymised form.

--- Later in debate ---
Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I welcome the Minister’s constructive comments. Obviously, I am not party to the consultations that are going on. I am still disappointed that there was not provision for both consultation and, where necessary, legislative consent. As the Minister clarified, those registries will absolutely contain individual patient data. As a surgeon, of course I support the principle of registries and how they are put together, but the responsibility for data in NHS Scotland and in the other devolved nations lies with the Health Ministers of those nations. It is disappointing that there was nothing put in these provisions.

I hope that the consultation goes forward. I will therefore not push the amendments. Obviously, I reserve the right to table amendments at a later stage. However, it is important that the Government recognise that the same concerns that we have heard around GP data in England would then apply in Scotland, where we have not taken any kind of commercial approach in the past, and that there will be a recognition of the role of those health Ministers. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

As we have discussed in the context of the various amendments, clause 85 inserts a new chapter, 1A, into the Medicines and Medical Devices Act 2021. It introduces a new power to make regulations that would provide for one or more medicines information systems to be established and operated by NHS Digital. The power may be exercised only for the specified purposes set out in the provision: namely, purposes relating to the safety, quality and efficacy of human medicines and the improvement of clinical decision making in relation to human medicines. The clause sets out the types of provisions that could be made by the regulations and, to ensure full engagement, includes a mandatory public consultation requirement that must be fulfilled before any regulations are made.

Medicines information systems will enhance the capture and collation of information on the uses and effects of specific medicines across all four nations, including medicines prescribed to patients by the NHS and private healthcare providers. That information will be used by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency to enhance post-market surveillance of medicines by enabling the development of comprehensive UK-wide medicines registries, which will be used to drive improvements to patient safety. The evidence generated through medicines registries can be used to inform regulatory decision making, support local clinical practice and provide prescribers with the evidence needed to make better-informed decisions. For example, where safety concerns have led to the introduction of measures to minimise risk to patients, comprehensive medicines registries will enable early identification and investigation of cases where those measures are not being followed, so that additional action can be taken to improve safety at national, local or individual patient level.

The clause also ensures that we have the right powers to promptly modify what data is collected by NHS Digital as the need for new or different information about a medicine emerges in the light of changing or developing public health needs. That will provide the ability to rapidly respond to emerging risks to patient safety if and when they develop.

Given the overarching aims of the clause, it makes sense that the provisions will ultimately sit within the Medicines and Medical Devices Act 2021, which has a similar power for establishing information systems for medical devices in section 19. To ensure the effective operation of both the medicines information systems and the medical devices information systems, the clause also introduces necessary technical amendments to the MMD Act.

The clause drives forward improvements to the safety measures that protect patients in the UK against avoidable harm from medicines, and supports the need for the establishment of registries as recommended in the independent medicines and medical devices safety review, published last year. The clause directly supports putting patient safety at the heart of regulatory decision making. It will ensure that we have robust and comprehensive evidence to address public health concerns, and enable mechanisms to track the use and effects of medicines, based on public health needs. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.

Health and Care Bill (Sixth sitting)

Debate between Edward Argar and Philippa Whitford
Tuesday 14th September 2021

(11 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I, too, rise to support the amendment. This is probably one of the most important amendments so far. In the witness discussion, we came back time and again to which voices would be on the ICB and would be able to influence. I agree that, with all the talk of parity of esteem, it seems incredible that there would not be a voice representing the importance of mental health on the board. Similarly, with the talk of moving to population health and wellbeing, there is a need for directors of public health to agree policy and to feed in information about the underlying health inequalities, life expectancy and so on in the local population. Not to have a social care voice when what the Government say is that they are trying to integrate the NHS with social care seems quite bizarre.

The NHS and social care are both services delivered by people for people and having both the workforce and staff voice, and the patient voice, is therefore important. On the staff voice, the “Learning from Scotland’s NHS” report from the Nuffield Trust highlights that the success of both the Scottish patient safety programme and the Scottish quality improvement standards was driven by the fact that frontline staff were involved as drivers, champions and developers from the word go. These programmes have been able to run over years, building on experience that is then shared with other sectors and specialities. It is important to get this part of the Bill right, or else priority will not be given to integration, population health or wellbeing. Of all the things that have been discussed so far in Committee, and through the witness statements, this amendment is one of the most important.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

This is an important amendment because it goes to the heart of the debate we have been having about permissive versus prescriptive, and where the appropriate balance is. I suspect we slightly disagree on that—perhaps a little less than one might suppose—but I am grateful to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Nottingham North, for bringing this amendment forward. It gives us the opportunity to start getting into that permissive versus prescriptive debate. At the outset he raised the recent announcement by the Prime Minister about integration; it will not surprise him when I say that I believe this creates the foundations of that integration, on which we can continue to build in the coming years.

In respect of the specifics of the amendment, schedule 2 sets out minimum membership of the integrated care board. That is the key element here. It will need to include members nominated by trusts, foundation trusts, persons who provide primary medical services in the ICB area and local authorities. As we heard in the witness sessions, this is very much de minimis—it is not what will happen; it is the baseline, above which each system can go if it wishes to reflect local needs and priorities. We have heard the quote from Dame Gill Morgan about how she is approaching it, but we have also heard from Richard Murray of the King’s Fund, who said:

“You could easily criticise the degree of permissiveness; you could criticise the degree of direction in there. The question should be, ‘Can anyone come up with a better one?’ We have not been able to do so, so I think it is a balance well drawn.”––[Official Report, Health and Social Care Public Bill Committee, 09 September 2021; c. 127, Q173.]

I appreciate that shadow Ministers may take a different view because they feel they have come up with a better balance. However, I highlight that evidence before I go into my answer.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Obviously, Dame Gill Morgan is quoted as saying that no one could evenly remotely think of setting up an ICS without primary care voices—and these other voices. Are all interim ICSs that have developed so far following the same model as she is? Is this totally intuitive, and therefore to be relied on, or should it actually be laid down? The voices listed in this amendment are central.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady and I have spoken about “Learning from Scotland’s NHS” before; as she will know, we are not dogmatic and are always happy to learn from Scotland’s NHS—as, I am sure, it is happy to learn from England’s NHS. That is to the benefit of everyone, and I am very grateful to her for inviting me on Second Reading to come and visit Scotland and see it on the ground, which I hope to do.

The reality is that the ICSs at the moment, on a non-statutory footing, are at different stages of development, different stages of evolution and reflect different approaches. One of the things we are seeking to do here is to put a non-restrictive degree of prescription around this—if that is possible—to get a degree of consistency, but not to be too prescriptive.

Dame Gill Morgan leads one of the more developed ICSs. I do not think what she is saying would be unrepresentative of the attitudes and approaches adopted by ICSs more broadly. I should say ICBs, as the hon. Member for Bristol South rightly highlighted the importance of reflecting careful use of the terminology in the evidence sessions—she caught my eye, and I have corrected myself now. I think we strike the appropriate balance here, and I suspect we will see ICBs going further in their membership, but that flexibility is able to reflect local circumstances.

--- Later in debate ---
Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Whitford
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Although this was described as an evolutionary piece of legislation that would not involve a lot of upheaval for the NHS, it actually does. It is a significant piece of legislation, but it represents a missed opportunity to go back to a unified public NHS with integrated care bodies as the main structure. They are responsible for spending billions of pounds of public money, but the system will still be a transactional one based on a purchaser-provider split and tariffs. We will talk further about how can inhibit development.

If we are to have a purchaser-provider split, we have to have a split. We cannot get away from the conflict of interest inherent in having private providers who seek contracts to deliver care sitting on the very board that makes those decisions, or on the partnership board that will develop the strategy. That is a conflict of interest. It should be resolved, and the amendment should be supported.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

With your indulgence, Ms Elliott, I will turn to amendment 33 first. Integrated care boards will be NHS bodies, whose membership consists, at a minimum, of individuals appointed by NHS providers, providers of GP services and local authorities that coincide with the ICB. Any perceived risk of privatisation through the ICB membership provisions is, I believe, entirely unfounded—and, I feel bound to add, potentially unfair to the many public servants in the NHS who work for ICBs. Although service provision—I emphasise the word “provision”—by the independent and voluntary sectors has been, and continues to be, an important and valuable feature of this country’s healthcare system under successive Governments of all political complexions, it was never the intention for independent providers, as corporate entities, to sit on integrated care boards, nor for an individual to be appointed there to be a representative of such an interest in any capacity.

People must therefore be assured that the work of integrated care boards is driven by health outcomes, not by profits, and I am sure that there will be a consensus on that principle across this Committee. That is why there are already safeguards in place to ensure that the interests of the public and the NHS are always put first. The ICB chair has the power to veto members of the board if they are unsuitable, and NHSE has the power to issue guidance to ICBs in relation to appointments as part of its general guidance-making power. That sits alongside the robust requirements on ICBs to manage conflicts of interests, and NHSE’s wider duty to issue guidance to ICBs.

I turn to amendment 30, which seeks to exclude individuals whose GP practice holds an alternative provider medical services contract from being made a member of an ICB. APMS contractors include some private and third-sector organisations, but also some GP partnerships. These contractors include, for example, social enterprises and partnerships that provide services to homeless people and asylum seekers. This amendment would potentially prevent some individuals from being on ICBs, on the basis of the type of NHS GP contract that their practice holds.

I do appreciate the intent behind the amendments, namely the desire to avoid the appearance, and potentially even the risk, of privatisation and conflicts of interest. However, the effect would be to limit the ability of primary medical service providers to appoint an ICB member who might best meet the requirements of the local population, by reducing the diversity of GPs who could be appointed. While I can understand the intent behind them, I fear that these amendments do not do what they seek to do, and they would have unintended consequences. I will turn to those shortly.

We recognise that the involvement of the private sector, in all its forms, in ICBs is a matter of significant concern to Members in the House, and we are keen to put the point beyond doubt. However, having taken appropriate advice, I am afraid that that these amendments would not cover a number of scenarios—for example, lobbyists for private providers, or those with a strong ideological commitment to the private sector—and they would therefore not be watertight

As it stands, these amendments may well not offer the robust assurance that perhaps hon. Members intended. Therefore—this is where I may surprise the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston—to put this matter beyond doubt, we propose to bring forward a Government amendment on Report to protect the independence of ICBs by preventing individuals with significant interests in private healthcare from sitting on them.

As hon. Members will know from their attempts to draft these amendments, avoiding unintended consequences is not a simple matter. If appropriate, I would be happy to engage with either the hon. Member for Nottingham North or the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston in advance of Report. We may not reach a consensus, but, as they both know, I am always happy to have a conversation with them.

The Government are firmly committed to the founding principles of the NHS. We recognise the importance of its values, and the public service ethos that animates it. It is by no means our intention to allow private sector providers to influence, or to make, decisions on spending on the commissioning board—the ICB—and the spending of public money. The Bill does not allow that, but we will look to see whether we can find a way to put that unfounded fear to bed once and for all with an appropriately worded amendment that does not have unintended consequences.

Although I appreciate that much the same motive underpins amendment 27, it is worth considering why the integrated care board and the integrated care partnership are different bodies. The decision to create integrated care partnerships came from discussions with a number of stakeholders who revealed a strong case for the creation of a committee to consider strategically not only the health needs but the broader social care and public health needs of a population. It is not a body like the ICP, as we have heard, which will be directly accountable for the spending of NHS monies.

We therefore do not intend to specify membership for the ICP in the Bill, as we want local areas to be able to appoint members as they think appropriate. To support that, we have recently been working with NHS England and the Local Government Association to publish an ICP engagement document setting out the role of integrated care partnerships and supporting local authorities, integrated care boards and other key stakeholders to consider what arrangements might work best in their areas.

We would expect members of the ICP to be drawn from a very wide variety of sources and backgrounds, including the health and wellbeing boards within the system; partner organisations with an interest in health and care, such as Healthwatch; and potentially voluntary and independent sector partners and social care providers at that level, as well as organisations with wider interests in local priorities, such as housing providers.

To exclude independent providers from both the ICB and the ICP would, I fear, risk severely reducing the extent to which all parts of the broader health and care ecosystem could be drawn upon in the ICP context. It would exclude valuable expertise and would, for example, prevent social care providers who provide a small amount of domiciliary care to the NHS from sitting on the ICP. Furthermore, the ICP will not make commissioning decisions or enter into contractual arrangements that are binding, or make decisions about who gets funding allocations. Those are functions conferred on the ICB, hence the distinction that I make.

I therefore believe that membership of individuals from independent providers on the ICP does not present a conflict of interest in the way that hon. Members have asserted, certainly in the context of the ICB. I suspect that we may debate that further in the coming weeks, but taken with the ICB and the comments that I have made, we believe that this provides the right balance between recognising the distinctive accountabilities and responsibilities of the NHS, local authorities and other partners, and strongly encouraging areas to go further in developing joint working.

I hope that what I have said provides some reassurance to Opposition Members, and that they will be willing—I see them nodding—to engage with me to see whether we might find a greater degree of consensus. I should also say that I will obviously speak to the Scottish National party spokesperson on this as well, as I have done throughout. I addressed my remarks to the shadow Minister, but of course I extend that offer to her. I hope that on that basis, the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman will consider withdrawing the amendment.

Social Distancing: 2 Metre Rule

Debate between Edward Argar and Philippa Whitford
Monday 15th June 2020

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts

Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I have huge respect for him and for his campaigning on this issue, particularly in the context of the extraordinary work he has done on social justice over many years. He highlights the importance of looking at the impact of covid-19, not just in the immediate context of health outcomes, but at its broader social and economic impact. He is absolutely right. He is also right to emphasise the need for urgency, and that is exactly how we will conduct this review.

On his final point, he is right: the science is mixed. There are different scientific opinions, and a balance must be struck between the best scientific advice and consideration of the impact on the economy. As a great former Prime Minister once said:

“Advisers advise, and Ministers decide.”

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The risk of viral spread is influenced not just by the distance between people, but by the length of time they spend together. While research is measured in minutes, people could be sitting in a pub or restaurant for hours. Other factors include ventilation, the activity engaged in and whether face coverings are mandatory. The Government cannot wish away the fact that the risk of transmission increases as people get closer, and more than doubles from 2 metres to 1. Is it not safer to keep the distance at 2 metres but to work with all sectors to develop protective measures for when that is not possible? It could be a combination of personal protection, in the form of mandatory face coverings, and structural protection, such as using glass or perspex screens between tables in restaurants. We all recognise the impact on the hospitality sector, but surely a second wave would be devastating.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

Before I answer, may I put on the record on behalf of myself and my hon. Friends our very best wishes to the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan) for a swift and full recovery? I hope that the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) will be able to convey our sentiments to her when they speak. The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire is a member not just of the SNP family but of the family of this House, and we all wish her well.

The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire is well versed in these issues and is an eminent clinician in her own right. We have made it clear that the 2 metre rule taken in isolation is not the only factor. She is right to highlight the broader context: it is not just about distance, but about duration of contact, how close that contact was, and whether measures were in place to mitigate that, be it screens or other measures. She is absolutely right and, we must always remember that this is not a binary question—it is not just the 2 metre rule, or the distance rule, and nothing else. We must look at it in the round, as the Chancellor and, I believe, the First Minister of Scotland, rightly said. That is exactly what this review will be doing—looking at all those factors in the round, to come up with appropriate scientific and economic advice to the Prime Minister and Ministers so that they can make a balanced decision.

Oral Answers to Questions

Debate between Edward Argar and Philippa Whitford
Tuesday 5th May 2020

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

I gently say to the right hon. Gentleman that there is no suggestion of any decision having been influenced in the way that he suggests. Indeed, the permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office made it clear in his clarification to the Foreign Affairs Committee that this was not a political decision. I reiterate that we are open to participating in future schemes on the basis of public health requirements and on a case-by-case basis.

Philippa Whitford Portrait Dr Philippa Whitford (Central Ayrshire) (SNP) [V]
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Operation Cygnus in October 2016 showed that the UK would struggle in a pandemic due to a lack of both ventilators and personal protective equipment for staff. Why did the Secretary of State not act on it?

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
- Hansard - -

The Government did act in looking at all previous modelling and all previous exercises. That is why the UK was well prepared. Let me take the example of ventilators, which she mentioned. The UK has massively increased the number of ventilators available to our NHS, meaning that at no point thus far in this pandemic has there been a shortage of ventilators. I reiterate, returning to the original question, that participating in those four initial joint procurement schemes with the EU would not have allowed us to do anything we have not already been able to do for ourselves.