All 3 Lord Desai contributions to the Health and Care Act 2022

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Tue 7th Dec 2021
Health and Care Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading & 2nd reading
Thu 13th Jan 2022
Health and Care Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage: Part 1
Wed 9th Feb 2022
Health and Care Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage: Part 1

Health and Care Bill

Lord Desai Excerpts
Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I add my congratulations to everybody else’s on the brilliant maiden speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens. The noble Lord, Lord Patel, described many of his achievements, but he failed to mention that he was a member of the Holloway ward Labour Party many years ago, of which I had the honour to be chairman. I am sure he gained lots of knowledge at that time.

There are some great constants in British political life. One is that we always say that our NHS staff are marvellous, and they are, but we do not meet their wage demands; they have to be underpaid to be marvellous. The NHS is always in crisis, and we all love it. This is the great contradiction of British political life: everybody praises the NHS, Governments never pay NHS staff adequate wages, but we all love it.

I worry that this Government’s ambition, as set by the Chancellor, whom I respect very much, is to be a tax-cutting Government. A tax-cutting Government will never adequately fund the NHS. I also worry that when there is a funding crisis, all Governments reorganise the service, because somebody says, “There’s a lot of waste in the NHS, and we must cut the loss and get more managers”, or, “We want more integration”, and so on. So I somewhat welcome this Bill, but I do not think it will solve anything very much.

The biggest failure of the NHS, if I may say so, has been that health inequalities have not been corrected as much as we hoped when it was established. When the pandemic happened, you did not need a computer to predict who was going to be last in the queue. The postcode lottery always works. Women, the elderly and racial minorities will always be the last in the queue and will suffer. This should not happen in a universal healthcare system. Unless we make that the primary concern of any reform of the health service, we will still be waiting for the next reorganisation, and the next.

This is, I am sure, a very good Bill. Lots of professionals and others who have engaged themselves with the National Health Service will find good things to say or good things to change in it. However, I would like to have seen a 15-year funding plan for the NHS, guaranteed by the Government, which would say: “We cannot do it now but within five or 10 years we assure you that, given the increasing needs of the population for health services due to age and other problems, we will meet those needs adequately and remove inequalities and problems at least by date X.” That is not happening, and I do not think it will happen any time soon.

Let me say one more thing. I am an economist and have to say something about economics. One thing I said many years ago when I was on the shadow Front Bench as spokesperson for health is that, while the NHS is free at the point of service, we have to make people aware that it is not costless. We have to make patients aware that everything they do costs money somewhere in the system. At that time, I wanted to propose a smart card. Each time anybody uses the National Health Service, it tells them how much it costs, not how much money they have to pay. They just tap it and it shows the cost so that people are aware that not going to an appointment costs money and calling an ambulance costs money. If people become aware of how much it costs, we may get a little help from the patients as well as from the service.

Health and Care Bill

Lord Desai Excerpts
Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD)
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My Lords, my name is attached to six amendments in this extremely important group. I should like first to turn to Amendment 14 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, to which my name is attached. Other noble Lords have expressed support for amending the triple aim to explicitly include health inequalities, and I add my voice to that call. The examples given by the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and others about the real-life causes and impacts of health inequalities show just how important it is that we strengthen the Bill.

I would like briefly to highlight the specific impact of mental health inequalities, which are pervasive and deeply embedded. As the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, said in our debate on Tuesday, mental illness itself causes inequality. People with severe mental illness live, on average, between 15 and 20 years less than the general population. Black people are more than four times as likely as white people to be detained under the Mental Health Act. There are higher rates of suicide in the LGBT community, yet many in that community do not, or feel that they cannot, seek healthcare because of fear of discrimination. People with a learning disability often suffer with significantly worse physical and mental health than the general population.

The Centre for Mental Health Research has shown that it is often groups of people with the poorest mental health who have the greatest difficulty accessing healthcare that meets their needs and produces good outcomes for them. Unless an ICB is focused on which groups of people have the poorest health in the first place and understands why that is the case, it will, frankly, struggle to reduce the inequalities flowing from that.

Amendment 14 would amend the triple aim duties specifically for NHS England. Amendments 94, 185 and 186 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, to which I have attached my name, would replicate that explicit inclusion in the triple aim for integrated care boards, NHS trusts and NHS foundation trusts.

As the noble Lord, Lord Young, has said on health inequalities, regarding them as implied in the first element of the triple aim—to consider the impact of decisions on the health and well-being of the population—does not, in my view, get us any further than where we are today. Given the statistics that I have outlined and the fact, as we have heard, that the pandemic has made things a lot worse, we clearly need to go further.

I turn now to Amendment 65, regarding the role of local health systems. It seeks to strengthen the health inequality duty placed on integrated care boards by giving them a requirement to

“implement systems to identify and monitor inequalities in physical and mental health between different groups of people within the population”

of their area. As things stand, the provisions in the Bill will ensure that NHS organisations are required to address inequalities in a similar way to how CCGs currently do it. But we need to see more ambition. The provisions would be strengthened and not merely transferred. The current requirement to “have regard to” is not enough. Local health systems have a central role to play in addressing health inequalities. They are ideally positioned to understand the challenges in their areas and, to use the jargon—for which I apologise —co-produce local solutions with communities. The development of integrated care systems gives us a new opportunity for local areas to take population health and place-based approaches, so that the vulnerable groups who have been referred to do not fall through gaps.

There is a lot about health inequalities that we do not know; we suspect, but we just do not have the data. Amendment 65 proposes that the Bill includes clearer and more direct requirements for integrated care boards to focus efforts on identifying and monitoring those inequalities. Currently, the quantity and quality of data collected is inadequate for it to be fully disaggregated against the different protected characteristics and provide a real insight into the inequalities that exist. That is why I have attached my name to Amendment 61 in the name of my noble friend Lady Walmsley, which I strongly support.

Robust information and data are prerequisites for any action. Improved data collection—both on health services and on wider inequalities in the area—will lead to a far better assessment of what needs to be done, particularly in areas such as public mental health and the local NHS workforce. I will quote one statistic about GPs. A GP working in a practice serving the most deprived patients will, on average, be responsible for the care of almost 10% more patients than a GP serving a more affluent area. This simply cannot be right.

I will end by quoting from work we have already heard about—the work of Professor Sir Michael Marmot. It needs no introduction. He has demonstrated that efforts to address health inequalities will benefit society as a whole. The NHS Long Term Plan states:

“While we cannot treat our way out of inequalities, the NHS can ensure that action to drive down health inequalities is central to everything we do.”


I urge the Government to ensure that the Bill does just that.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, as an NHS patient but not an expert, I will say one small thing about inequalities. Given the way in which the NHS is structured, with no money paid up front and with excess demand and inadequate supplies because of budget shortages, it is forced to allocate treatment by queuing—and queuing, obviously, means that people have to wait.

There is a fallacy that somehow the poor have more time than the rich. In my experience it would improve matters immensely if, when appointments are given, there was less delay in the patient seeing the person whom they are supposed to see. I know that, right now, there are standard regulations that cover these matters, so that people end up waiting three hours. I have done that. But my time is not as valuable as that of someone poorer. You do not measure the value of your time by your income. So it would improve matters if the allocation of services were made using communication devices. This would waste less of patients’ time and help them better access services.

Lord Bishop of Carlisle Portrait The Lord Bishop of Carlisle
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My Lords, I will speak on behalf of my noble friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. She has added her name to Amendment 65, and we on these Benches support the other amendments in this group that seek to reduce health inequalities. As we have heard, these amendments would help to ensure that the Bill does not forget the underserved and disadvantaged in our society, many of whom have been mentioned already.

In the Christian and Jewish faiths, there is a Biblical concept—shalom—which embodies a sense of flourishing, generosity and abundance. Shalom can be summarised as experiencing wholeness, or a state of being without gaps. This is reflected in the World Health Organization’s definition of health, which is about not only the absence of disease but mental, physical and social well-being. It is a vision for individuals and for the whole of society. Our efforts to design a more holistic health service are, in effect, aimed at achieving that sort of shalom. We see this clearly in the decision made to place 42 integrated care systems across the country. What is not yet apparent is the relationship of these systems and boards to the wider community.

This Bill must seek to involve local communities—and not just professionals—in the reduction of health inequalities. These amendments highlight the monitoring of both physical and mental inequalities, take account of the experiences of young people and children and place more emphasis on the strength of local interventions to help reduce and prevent health inequalities. I commend them wholeheartedly to your Lordships’ House and to the Minister.

Health and Care Bill

Lord Desai Excerpts
Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage
Wednesday 9th February 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Health and Care Act 2022 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 71-IX Ninth marshalled list for Committee - (7 Feb 2022)
Lord Winston Portrait Lord Winston (Lab)
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My Lords, I am very reluctant to intervene in this long debate, but I have travelled down from Manchester specifically for this group of amendments. I have not been involved with this Bill previously, partly because of my own ill health, and also because of my teaching outside London, but I will make a short intervention here.

My noble friend Lord Hunt has raised the very important issue of the nature of interaction between human beings, which is absolutely essential in considering some of the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, and others. I am not going to advocate music therapy, dance therapy, exercise therapy or art therapy here, because, speaking as an academic, one of the problems here is that we simply do not understand the truth of the interaction that makes these things work. One of the big problems is that really good randomised controlled trials are still very much lacking.

I am reminded, for example, of a very good randomised controlled trial, by Dr Nair in Australia, of quite a large number of demented people in a care home to whom he played music. From his results, there was no question but that the music, which was extremely tranquil baroque music from sixteen different composers, actually made them more disturbed, more sleepless, more angry, less able to eat their food and more likely to come into conflict with the nursing staff.

So it is very unclear what is actually happening in the brain. During the debate today we have heard claims made about changes in brain structure, but the truth is that we have not done sufficient research to really be clear about this. The research is very expensive, and one of the problems is that it involves very complex things such as time on scanning machines, for example—functional MRI. There is simply not enough research going on into the dementias—whatever they are—to fully understand the nature of what we are talking about.

I am not suggesting that we do not do music therapy but, speaking with my interest as an ex-chairman of the Royal College of Music, I say that we have seen that some of the things we do simply do not work or, if they do, it is not understood how. One of the things with music therapy, for example, is that you see individual patients interacting with somebody else, and it may be that the interaction is more important than the actual music. For example, watching musicians play in person may be better than watching them on a screen or just listening to music. There is a lot of work that needs to be done here before we can make big claims.

These are important amendments that are well made and well put, but we need to be really clear in debating this legislation that, until we understand the mechanisms—the phenotype—of what we are discussing, we have to recognise also that much more money is required for research into the dementias. That is really critical and there is a risk here of making legislation that will not fundamentally change the real problem that we are facing.

Lord Desai Portrait Lord Desai (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I rise to say that Amendment 297A is obviously very desirable. But, as an economist, I have to say: if we implement this, who will be deprived? GPs’ time is limited and GPs’ numbers are limited, as we all know. Through much of my life in the NHS, all that the GP did for me was prescribe what I needed. It took about five minutes, and the GP did not even have to talk to me; they could look at the computer to find out who I was and what I was doing. It is, quite rightly, only people over 65 who need a caring GP, so we have to devise a system for those who do not need extensive consultation and familiarity with the GP but can be dealt with in a summary fashion. Perhaps we could have junior and senior GPs, so that we could release the senior GPs for this sort of work and have other people for prescriptions and simple tasks.

Baroness Walmsley Portrait Baroness Walmsley (LD)
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My Lords, I was going to speak for two minutes but now I am going to speak for only half a minute. I have one question for the Minister. I know that his department has a small team developing the National Dementia Strategy. Can he can tell us whether any additional capacity is being planned to add to that small team doing this important work? Frankly, without a national strategy, the new ICSs will not be able to measure their performance in their dementia care plans against a national standard. The matter is urgent, because the position of people living with dementia has worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic and, while we are trying to tackle the backlog of treatments for patients with physical health needs, we must not forget those with dementia.