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NHS Accountability

Volume 564: debated on Tuesday 11 June 2013

We have transformed accountability in the health system by setting up Healthwatch and introducing stronger local democratic accountability through health and wellbeing boards.

Croydon PCT’s accounts for 2010-11 showed a £5.5 million surplus; it subsequently turned out to be a £23 million deficit. The former chief executive and two former finance officers have adamantly refused to give evidence to a scrutiny committee set up by councils in south-west London. Does the Secretary of State agree that that is unacceptable and that NHS managers must be held to account, and given that two of these individuals still work in the NHS, does he have the power to compel them to give evidence?

Accountability is extremely important. Local authorities can require members or employees of local health service commissioners to appear and answer questions, and NHS organisations and individuals should co-operate with that. I am extremely concerned by what my hon. Friend says. He knows that I have received a report on this from the joint overview and scrutiny committees for six south-west London boroughs, and I will be responding shortly.

Does the Secretary of State agree that accountability would be improved if the private providers who are increasingly providing NHS services were subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000? Will he ensure that as more and more services become privatised under this Government, those people are subject to the same freedom of information provisions as those in the NHS, because otherwise no committee can hold them to account?

Perhaps I could gently remind the hon. Lady that the previous Labour Government did not do this, despite making huge efforts to get more private sector involvement in the NHS. Providers must operate on a level playing field, and so the inspection regime that we are setting up, with a new chief inspector of hospitals, will apply equally to the private sector and the public sector.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the introduction of health and wellbeing boards represents a very welcome introduction of democratic accountability into the management of the health and care system? Does he further agree that the acid test of health and wellbeing boards will be their ability to increase the pace of integration between health and care so that the service we deliver is more closely matched to the needs of patients?

As is so often the case, my right hon. Friend speaks extremely wisely on this issue. Integrated services will be the big thing that transforms the service we offer vulnerable older people, which the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) mentioned earlier. Health and wellbeing boards will have an extremely important role to play in bringing together local authorities and clinical commissioning groups so that we have joint commissioning of services for those very vulnerable people.

On accountability, whenever I have asked the Secretary of State how lives might be saved by downgrading Lewisham’s A and E he has cited the medical advice of Sir Bruce Keogh. My colleagues and I have repeatedly sought meetings with Sir Bruce and it is unprecedented in my experience to not receive a response to such a request. Is the Secretary of State satisfied with that? Is Sir Bruce free to meet Lewisham MPs, or has the Secretary of State told him not to?

Sir Bruce is free to meet anyone he likes. Actually, he had a meeting with MPs last month, which the right hon. Lady could have attended if she had wanted to do so, and there was extensive engagement with local south-east London MPs before the decision on Lewisham hospital was made.