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Nhs Patients (Wales)

Volume 408: debated on Tuesday 1 July 2003

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4.

What the Government's policy is towards the treatment of NHS patients from Wales in England. [122420]

It is the responsibility of local commissioning bodies to ensure proper access to NHS services for their local populations. NHS trusts in England will continue to provide a range of services to patients from Wales in accordance with these arrangements.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that many of my constituents and others in north-east Wales currently receive much of their medical treatment from hospitals in England, such as those in Chester, Gobowen, Liverpool and Manchester? My concern is that the Health and Social Care (Community Health and Standards) Bill does not place an obligation on foundation hospitals to continue to treat patients from Wales. Will my right hon. Friend therefore consider an amendment to ensure that hospitals in England continue to have an obligation to treat patients from Wales?

I do not think that we will be considering an amendment to do what my hon. Friend suggests. However, there was some argument in the Standing Committee about the Bill's provision in connection with the treatment of patients from Wales by NHS foundation trusts in England. It was always argued that NHS foundation trusts in England were fully able, and legally empowered, to treat patients from Wales. We have tabled some further amendments in Committee to make that perfectly clear. To put the matter beyond doubt for my hon. Friend, I assure him that there is nothing in the Bill, if it is approved by this House, to prevent NHS foundation trusts, once they are established, to treat patients from his constituency. I think that that is the right way to deal with this matter.

Will the Minister confirm that the Bill means that English hospitals that treat Welsh patients will be subject to two separate inspection regimes by two sets of inspectors in the same year?

We have made it clear that we want the new audit and inspection arrangements to be as minimally invasive and bureaucratic as possible. It is perfectly possible for the National Assembly for Wales and the commission for health care audit and inspection to co-ordinate and co-operate to determine how the investigations and monitoring arrangements work in practice. That is the sensible way to proceed, but the fundamental problem for Opposition Members is that they do not accept the devolution settlement. They do not accept that it is perfectly possible for the National Assembly for Wales to exercise those functions in a devolved way. Yes, there will be two inspection bodies, but that is no reason to argue that there cannot be proper co-ordination between them. That is the right way to proceed. It reflects the constitutional settlement agreed by this House, which is working well in the interests of the people of Wales and England.

My hon. Friend the Minister uncharacteristically misunderstands the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas). The point is not that English foundation hospitals will not have the ability to treat Welsh patients but that, although the Bill as constructed gives them a legal responsibility to treat English patients, it does not give them a similar responsibility to treat Welsh patients. Will the Minister carefully consider whether the Bill could be amended so that patients in Wales and in England enjoy equal rights?

With the very greatest respect to my hon. Friend, I must tell him that he is wrong on that point. The Bill makes it evident beyond any reasonable doubt that NHS foundation trusts in England will be perfectly able, legally, to treat NHS patients from Wales. The point that my hon. Friend has not understood is that whether an English hospital treats patients from Wales is a matter for the commissioning bodies and the trust to negotiate. Once the agreements are in place, there is nothing in the Bill to make it impossible for an NHS foundation trust—or any other NHS acute service provider in England—to provide services to patients from Wales.