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Health: Children and Young People

Volume 735: debated on Monday 6 February 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the NHS Confederation report Children and Young People’s Health—Where Next? on the impact of the Health and Social Care Bill on children’s health.

My Lords, last month my right honourable friend Andrew Lansley launched the development of a health outcomes strategy for children and young people. An independent children and young people’s health outcomes forum will inform the development of this strategy and will consider the findings of this report alongside the wider views of children, young people, their families and the professionals who support them. It will report back to government by the summer.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. However, as this report makes clear, under government proposals up to six different commissioning bodies will have responsibility for commissioning child health or child public health services. Will the Minister tell the House how the Government will prevent the fragmentation of those services to ensure that children do not fall through the gaps, and whether the Government will therefore now consider placing a specific duty on all those commissioning bodies to improve outcomes and reduce inequalities in children’s and young people’s health?

My Lords, the outcomes framework that I have just referred to should assist in the latter regard. I think the noble Baroness would agree that the system we have at the moment is not sufficiently joined-up, and in that sense does not adequately serve the needs of children. The approach we have taken to the proposed NHS reforms is to promote the importance of the integration of care and service provision for everyone, including children. We believe that strong partnerships at a local level, supported by professionals and local leaders, are the way forward, not top-down direction. The health and well-being board provides the forum for repositioning the joint strategic needs assessment into a truly joined-up strategy for local people.

I welcome what my noble friend the Minister has said about getting the views of children, but does he think that giving the commissioning of the excellent Healthy Child programme to local authorities is going to bring about the universal dissemination and delivery of that programme?

The role of local authorities will be pivotal in this because it is at local-authority level that public health, social care, and indeed the discussions that will go on in the health and well-being board context will bring together policy in a way that informs NHS commissioning. I think that the approach we have taken has been widely welcomed, and we are absolutely determined that all sectors of society, including children, are included in these processes.

My Lords, my northern diocese of Blackburn scores heavily on the deprivation indices for children’s health outcomes. Does the Minister share my concern that if phase 3 children’s centres become self-financing—as I understand they are to—and a children’s centre is deemed not viable, surely the health impact on the community and of course on the health services will be immense?

The right reverend Prelate is right to draw attention to this issue. I simply say to him that the process that I have described at health and well-being board level is specifically designed to enable local people to determine the priorities that they see as most important for their area. It is right that these decisions are taken locally. I do not argue in the slightest with his analysis of the importance of these centres; I think they do a tremendous amount of good. I am sorry to hear that there may be some threat to the one that he mentioned, but I hope he will also tell me that discussions are going on at a local level to try to find a way forward that will suit the needs of local children.

My Lords, given the emphasis on local-level decision-making, will the Minister explain how the Government intend to monitor fairness of access for children with less common conditions who at a local level may not appear to have a great need because there is a lack of awareness of the complex nature of their needs but whose outcomes can be greatly improved with highly specialised care?

The noble Baroness raises an important point. She is right that it is all too easy for children or indeed any patient with a less common condition not to have their voices heard. That is why we are absolutely clear that local healthwatch should be configured in a way that reaches out to hard-to-reach groups. We are looking in particular at patients with specialised conditions to ensure that there is a mechanism for them to have their voices heard at the local level.

My Lords, first I will say how much I welcome the new outcomes framework for children. Will the Minister say which proposed structures in the Health and Social Care Bill will benefit children, and who will have overall responsibility for child health?

My Lords, the Secretary of State will retain ultimate accountability for children's health services. Under the Bill, as the noble Baroness knows, the functions will be conferred directly by Parliament on specific organisations. That will strengthen accountability. In answer to the first part of her question, the reform of the health system offers a real opportunity to address some of the well documented challenges that the current system presents. We are moving, through the Bill and through our reforms, to a system that will focus on promoting good health, which we see as important as delivering good care. Informed and expert knowledge will underpin the commissioning of integrated services, where we will measure success on improvements in the outcomes that are achieved. Treatment will be evidence-based and children will be involved in decisions about their care. All these things are embodied in the Bill.

My Lords, recent research at Bristol indicated that as many as one in 100 children who are absent from school long-term suffers from CFS/ME. There is a dearth of centres for the treatment and diagnosis of children with CFS/ME. Does the Minister envisage this improving under the new proposals?

My Lords, it is yet to be decided finally which services will be commissioned at a national level. I cannot give the noble Countess a definitive answer on where services for CFS/ME will be commissioned. However, we are sure that the arrangements will provide much better, more locally responsive ways of commissioning services generally. Whether clinical commissioning groups join together in commissioning services, whether lead commissioners do that or whether commissioning takes place at a higher level, we are clear that in all services this needs to improve.

Will the Minister tell me what the position is with accident and emergency services? We have all read in the papers that we should not get sick at weekends and how desperately people are treated in some hospitals. Are children’s services as adversely affected as those of adults, or are no figures kept on the difference? What does the Minister propose to do to increase cover, because misdiagnosis is a major worry in some cases?

My Lords, accident and emergency services will be commissioned at a local level. I am afraid that I do not have in front of me detailed information on the split between adult and children's services in an emergency context. If I can get the information, I will be happy to write to my noble friend.

My Lords, given that responsibility for commissioning for 0 to five year-olds will be at a national level, and commissioning for six to 19 year-olds will be the responsibility of local arrangements, as the noble Earl described, what are the risks for the continuing responsibility for safeguarding the health of the most vulnerable children in our society?

My Lords, the two main outcomes frameworks relevant to this are the NHS and the public health outcomes frameworks, which we are trying to align as far as possible. They set a clear direction for the health and healthcare of children and young people, but there is more to do. As our data improve, we need to ensure that the outcomes measured are the ones that matter most to children and young people. That is why we are developing a health outcomes strategy for children. This will be the first example of an outcomes strategy as part of the health reforms model.

My Lords, would the Minister remind us—in fact, more than that, would he make it absolutely clear—who will treat children whose families are not registered with a general practice?

My Lords, as my noble friend knows, it will be the legal responsibility of clinical commissioning groups to commission care on behalf of all patients living in their geographic area, whether or not they are registered with a GP. That means that arrangements have to be made to ensure that those patients are treated when needed.