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NHS: Health Improvements

Volume 728: debated on Wednesday 29 June 2011


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they will ensure that the NHS delivers strategic health improvements requiring levels of technology and expertise appropriate to regions or cities with large populations.

My Lords, our commissioning proposals will establish a national NHS commissioning board providing oversight of commissioning in the NHS and directly commissioning some services, including specialised services, where it makes sense to commission for larger populations. The NHS commissioning board will have a sub-national presence and local commissioning will be undertaken by clinical commissioning groups. The NHS commissioning board will have a duty to promote integrated services for patients, both within the NHS and between other local services.

I thank the Minister for that Answer, as far as it goes. The successful reorganisation of stroke services in London, which has saved many lives, was led by clinicians, as it should have been, but the commissioning and its delivery were in fact only brought about by NHS London, the ability of the strategic health authority to manage the PCTs and through great collaboration with the providers. Apart from the providers, all of these bodies are being dismantled and abolished as we speak. In the new system, how precisely would similar improvements be brought about? Who would take the lead and who would ensure their delivery?

My Lords, where it is deemed appropriate to commission a service at scale but below the level of the NHS commissioning board, as I described in my original Answer, it will be open to clinical commissioning groups either to establish a lead group to take control of the commissioning and to agree budgets and pathways or for clinical commissioning groups to collaborate jointly. The advantage of the system that we are proposing is its flexibility. Depending on population size and the needs of an area, commissioning can be done at several levels.

My Lords, the Question was so difficult to understand that I thought it was about telemedicine. Does it cover the issue of reducing the number of accident and emergency services in London so that they are more equivalent to the stroke units, which, as the noble Baroness said, have worked so well? Many people say that fewer but more effective accident and emergency services would be better. On the other hand, is the Minister aware of the concern over the closure of the Royal Brompton’s heart section for children, which is essential to the future of that hospital?

My Lords, my noble friend will know that an independent inquiry into children’s heart services is under way at the moment. It would be inappropriate for me to comment. I have not been involved at all but it would be inappropriate for Ministers to become involved. As regards ambulance and A&E services, we envisage that clinical commissioning groups will commission the great majority of NHS services for their patients, including urgent and emergency care and ambulance services. Prior to that, PCT clusters, which are being formed from the primary care trusts, will be responsible for commissioning ambulance services until 1 April 2013.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we are facing one of the greatest revolutions in medicine—that is, genomic medicine? It will make medical treatment more effective and efficient and will reduce the national drug bill. Therefore, does he not agree that one of the most urgent needs of a large population is for increased computing power and proper information technology?

I absolutely agree with the noble Lord. The information agenda, which should run in parallel with our plans, is essential for delivering the improvement in outcomes that we all want to see. Part of that will involve new technology. As the noble Lord knows, work is under way on genomic medicine, which is extremely exciting. We have included in the amendments tabled to the Health and Social Care Bill in another place a duty on both the Secretary of State and clinical commissioning groups to promote research in the health service.

My Lords, who will be the final arbiter in a decision if a commissioning board commissions a highly specialised treatment that may require patient testing locally and an infrastructure of local services, but the local commissioning group does not recognise the importance and potential good patient outcomes of this, and therefore does not adequately provide the infrastructure needed for the more highly specialised service?

My Lords, the system ought to respond to the kind of situation that the noble Baroness has posited. If a service is specially commissioned by a board, that board and local commissioners will be required to work in concert. If they do not, there will be mechanisms to ensure that the healthcare needs of an area are aired at the local authority level—that is, through the joint health and well-being boards, whose job it will be to prioritise the commissioning of services in that area.