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Volume 569: debated on Tuesday 22 October 2013

10. What steps his Department is taking to promote a culture of openness and transparency across the NHS. (900592)

We need to change the culture of the NHS so that where there are problems with care or safety, people feel able to speak out. The Government have banned gagging clauses, they are introducing a statutory duty of candour, and they have for the first time published surgery outcomes for 10 specialties by consultant.

I commend the Secretary of State for his transparency agenda, which has uncovered previously untold horrors. What more can he do to ensure that in future no Minister can ever cover up failure in the NHS?

I know this is difficult territory for the Labour party, but the most important thing is for regulators to feel that they can speak out about poor care without fear or favour. I am afraid that did not happen under the previous Government, so let me just—

Order. I told the Secretary of State privately before, and I say it publicly now, that if he intends to devote part of his answer to talking about what happened under the previous Government, he can abandon that plan now and resume his seat. I suggest he resumes his seat.

As part of this openness and transparency, will the Government improve their relations with the police and prison services, so that we can have a clearer idea of why people with mental illnesses are spending time in police cells or being sent to prison?

I am pleased to tell the right hon. Gentleman that we are working closely with the police to try to ensure that some of the people held in police cells are given much faster access to mental health services. That includes a street triage pilot, which has had early and promising results.

I was informed this morning that the chair of the NHS property board has resigned. That follows the revelation last week, through parliamentary questions I asked, that the board has been raiding its capital allocation to subsidise its own revenue funding. In the interests of transparency, will the Secretary of State undertake to review and publish the recruitment and employment procedure of executive and non-executive members of the board—including civil servant Peter Coates who created the board, which oversees £3 billion-worth of assets—and conduct careful audit and scrutiny of the board’s accounts and minutes?

Obviously, the suggestions my hon. Friend makes are extremely serious. If she lets me have a copy of all the things she is directly concerned about, I will look into it with the greatest priority.

With regard to openness and transparency, the Secretary of State’s failure to extend the Freedom of Information Act to private providers delivering NHS services is fostering a culture of secrecy. As he forces clinical commissioning groups to tender more services to the private sector, and if he truly believes in openness and the independence of health regulators, will he follow the clear advice from Monitor and extend FOI legislation to private providers, or is he content to allow them to continue to withhold information from patients?

When it comes to transparency about care, there should be an absolute level playing field between private providers and NHS providers. To answer the hon. Gentleman’s question on regulators, what this Government are going to do, Mr Speaker, is ensure that the Care Quality Commission has statutory independence so that no Government can ever try to interfere with the processes of reporting poor care.