Motion of Regret
That this House deplores the fact that the National Health Service (Clinical Commissioning Groups) Regulations 2012 (SI 2012/1631) involve the exclusion from membership of a Clinical Commissioning Group of (1) a member of a local authority, and (2) a registered nurse or a secondary care specialist if employed by a body which provides any relevant service to a person for whom the Clinical Commissioning Group has responsibilities.
My Lords, I refer noble Lords to the Register of Lords’ Interests and specifically to my chairmanship of the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust. At the core of the Government’s changes to the National Health Service are the clinical commissioning groups to which a significant part of the NHS budget is to be allocated from the next financial year.
Those clinical commissioning groups face formidable challenges. They need to be authorised and established. They take office at a time when the NHS is attempting to cope with the £20 billion Nicholson challenge. They will face major reconfiguration challenges as the health service seeks to become more efficient in the use of its services. They also will come under great pressure to encourage integration across health and social care but will face also the almost conflicting pressure of increasing the marketisation of the NHS and coping with the bringing in of competition law to a much greater extent. Whatever one’s views about the changes to the National Health Service—I am one who does not take a particularly positive view, as the noble Earl will know—what is not in doubt is that clinical commissioning groups are at the heart of those changes and that the challenge that CCGs face, as we have come to know and love them, is formidable.
These clinical commissioning groups are a curious body. They ostensibly are public bodies to be given £60 billion of public money. They also can be seen as a federation of primary care providers which are given huge financial and commissioning muscle and from which members of the primary care federation can gain considerably. Given that, and given the obvious potential conflict of interest that surrounds clinical commissioning groups, it is clear that they should have the strongest possible corporate governance and effective boards. The regulations before us are therefore of considerable importance.
As the Explanatory Memorandum points out, the regulations set out,
“requirements on CCGs in terms of their establishment and governance”,
requirements in relation to the make-up of the board and requirements in relation to,
“the initial procedure for establishing CCGs and any changes to CCG membership and geographic area thereafter”.
The statutory instrument sets out that membership must include a registered nurse, a secondary care specialist and two lay people.
As I said during our endless debates on the Health and Social Care Bill, I find the very limited lay representation to be very disappointing. It is surely contrary to all good practice in public body appointments that lay people are in such a minority on public bodies to which so much resource has been expended. I doubt that it would pass the Nolan test. I well recall the failures that we have seen in boards over the past two or three decades where it has become clear that the non-executives have failed to discharge their challenge duty. After all, that surely is one of the main lessons of mid-Staffordshire. To have only two lay people who could represent the public interest on those boards seems to me to be a vital error.
I also say to the noble Earl that he failed to respond effectively to our debates on conflict of interest. I am sure that when he seeks to defend the drafting of this statutory instrument, he will talk about conflict of interest. However, the biggest conflict of interest is the fact that GPs will be in a majority on those boards, and GPs can gain financially from the decisions of clinical commissioning groups. That is why this whole structure is flawed.
My concern about the statutory instrument—one of the most peculiarly drafted that I have ever come across—is that people with local expertise are excluded from the clinical commissioning board. Because a registered nurse or a secondary care specialist have intimate local knowledge and provide services to patients in the area of a CCG, they are not to be welcomed; they are to be excluded. That is quite a remarkable decision. For a registered nurse or a secondary care specialist to become a member of a CCG they either have to be retired and therefore completely out of date or they have to live miles away and know nothing of the local area. What a remarkably stupid decision that is. It is compounded by Schedule 4 of the regulations, which excludes a local authority member from being appointed as a lay member of a clinical commissioning group. Why? What on earth is the justification for that?
Given the issue of accountability of clinical commissioning groups, surely having an elected member of a local authority on the board of each CCG would be to the advantage of that CCG. I have yet to hear any convincing explanation as to why they are excluded. Indeed, it is so ridiculous that if you are a GP who happens to be a local councillor, you are excluded from serving on the CCG board. I have had brought to my attention the case of one GP who has been a leading light in the development of his own clinical commissioning group only to be told that he is now ineligible to become a member of the CCG board. Today I met a local authority councillor from east Cheshire who has just been appointed a lay member of a CCG, but she has now been told that because she is a local authority member she can no longer serve on the board.
There are some inconsistencies in the statutory instrument. It looks as though Members of your Lordships’ House can serve on the clinical commissioning group governing bodies, as opposed to MPs and members of local authorities. From my reading it would seem that an elected police commissioner may also serve. That seems to me a trifle inconsistent, and I would be grateful if the noble Earl could clarify that for me.
In the Explanatory Memorandum, when it comes to consultation, we are told that the proposed framework for the established governance and authorisation of clinical commissioning groups was tested with a wide range of stakeholders. Can the noble Earl say a little more about that? Who, in fact, were consulted? I had not realised until I received a briefing that the Foundation Trust Network was not consulted on the details of the regulations. We all read with great interest in Pulse magazine of 24 July that Sir David Nicholson, chief executive of the NHS, said that he was open to relaxing the restrictions that I have mentioned. Was he consulted?
Why did the department not listen to the concerns of the Royal College of Physicians, which believes that the CCG boards should always include specialist doctors who work within the area covered by a CCG in order to help the integration of services across primary and secondary care? Indeed, why did it not listen to the BMA, which feels that the regulations are restrictive and are hampering effective secondary care clinician recruitment to CCG boards? Why did it not listen to the Royal College of Nursing, which says that the guidance makes an assumption that GPs from practices in a CCG should be allowed to sit on the CCG governing body, but automatically excludes any nurses employed by any significant local provider or member in general practice? The college says that that will make it difficult to appoint nurses with the necessary skills and expertise who have sufficient knowledge of the local challenges. The Royal College of Surgeons is also concerned.
I have another concern. Again, when I read the regulations, I had not noticed that, as the Foundation Trust Network has pointed out, if you are a member of a foundation trust you are ineligible to serve on the board of a clinical commissioning group. I believe that the total membership of foundation trusts is more than 2 million. My own trust has 100,000 members in its patch, and they are all excluded from serving on the board of a clinical commissioning group. That is a bizarre decision. I really do not understand how the department could have allowed that to creep into this statutory instrument.
I believe that the regulations are badly thought out and badly constructed. Essentially they will ensure that the board of a clinical commissioning group will be bereft of members coming from the local authority, hospitals or the nursing profession who have any intimate knowledge of the patch in which they serve. I urge the noble Earl to reflect on this. It would be much better if these regulations were withdrawn and new ones brought before your Lordships’ House. I beg to move.
My Lords, I begin by congratulating the Minister on surviving the ministerial defenestration at Richmond House over the summer. I recall that some years ago a younger Bruce Willis played the title role in the film “Last Man Standing”. I welcome the Minister to his new role as an action hero. However, today’s regulations do not live up to this star billing.
My noble friend’s Motion of Regret contains many important reservations and I wholly endorse his remarks but there are other concerns as well. I will not repeat my noble friend’s remarks on the inconsistency of the CCG membership provisions but I would like to supplement them briefly. It seems bizarre to me to allow GPs with acknowledged conflicts of interest in a CCG area to serve on the CCG, though with appropriate safeguards and sanctions for failing to acknowledge those conflicts—sanctions which we discussed extensively during the Bill’s passage through this House—but not to allow specialist doctors to do exactly the same. This seems to me not to be in the best interests of patients because it appears to be punishing expertise of a specialist nature in terms of the development of services by commissioners in a particular local area.
My second point, which I want to dwell on a little longer, concerns the issues relating to accountable officers, which to a great extent, to my reasonably tutored eye, look remarkably similar to the roles of chief executives in PCTs. Has the Minister seen the information about CCG accountable officers in the Health Service Journal of 11 October? This reveals that 72% of the emerging 211 CCGs have chosen managers and not GPs as their accountable officers. Only 22% of the accountable officers are GPs—a drop in the 38% expected as recently as March 2012. This is because the job of the accountable officer looks remarkably like the job of a PCT chief executive and simply does not appeal to GPs. As I recall, the Government, when pushing for this legislation and these reforms, made much of the fact that they wanted to see GPs in a leadership role driving clinical commissioning in a reformed NHS. We seem to have ended up with a situation in which GPs as a whole are walking away from a leadership role in commissioning. That leaves the Government’s strategy of increasing clinical involvement in commissioning services, which I wholly support, in a very weakened state. It suggests that after all the upheaval of the poorly constructed Bill, which we spent months discussing, we will end up with more than 200 CCGs replacing 150 PCTs, but still with about 150 PCT chief executive equivalents running the show within CCGs. This is a bizarre outcome from the time we spent on the Bill. Did we really labour through the Bill for many months to achieve that outcome? Can the Minister confirm that the Health Service Journal data are correct? What proportion of the £60 billion a year going to clinical commissioning groups will come under accountable officers who are not GPs or doctors?
I have a few questions about service integration and CCG mergers. The new Health Secretary seems very enthusiastic about integration of health and social care and that is a jolly good thing. Can the Minister explain how excluding local authority personnel—both members and officers, such as a director of adult services—from a CCG board can facilitate joint commissioning of health and social care and the pooling of health and social care budgets, which seems to be attracting increasing support? How will such an arrangement incentivise CCG accountable officers to use resources for adult social care from the national Commissioning Board in such a way as to save the NHS money and provide a better service to patients? Indeed, can the Minister confirm that CCG accountable officers will not be criticised if they use NHS resources wisely to purchase social care that better serves the needs of patients when appropriate?
As the Minister knows, I am deeply sceptical about the need for and viability of having more than 200 CCGs, particularly given the likely service reconfigurations needed over the rest of this decade. I am therefore pleased that there is some provision in the regulations for mergers to take place. However—there is always a “however”—the list of factors to be taken into account before a merger can proceed, in paragraph 2 of Schedule 1, is extraordinarily daunting. There is a page and a bit of factors that have to be taken into account before a CCG—which may find pretty quickly that it is unviable—can move towards merger. They do not encourage CCGs to face up to financial realities and speedily reduce their number when needs must. Should the Government not be cutting this list of factors substantially rather than providing for a slow CCG death, as Schedule 1 seems to do?
I understand that the Minister may not want to answer all these questions tonight but perhaps he could write to me on some of these issues. I certainly support my noble friend’s suggestion that these regulations should be taken back, rethought through and re-presented to Parliament.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has done us a major service by bringing forward a full debate on these regulations. We have discussed at length the problem of secondary care representation. Indeed, the fact that there will be secondary care representation and nurse representation on clinical commissioning groups is welcome. However, the principle of integration seems to be blown apart by the way in which these regulations are written. The Royal College of General Practitioners and the Royal College of Physicians—I declare an interest as a fellow of both—and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health produced a document entitled Teams without Walls about involving generalists and specialists to ensure a better, more seamless journey for patients.
In an area—and we are trying to have more localism and more local involvement in decision-making—the very clinicians on half of this pathway are now excluded from involvement in the planning and decision-making for those services yet they are the clinicians who have an in-depth knowledge and experience of the health economy, integrated working and, indeed, of the deficits in standards. That is where I wish to focus my remarks for a moment. The Francis inquiry has not yet reported but I understand that the Government have given a commitment to implement the findings when they come out. I do not understand why the Government have not left this matter completely open at the moment. If the Francis inquiry considers that there is not enough integration between secondary and primary care in decision-making, planning of services and so on, then allowing a secondary care clinician from the local area to be on the clinical commissioning group would provide the flexibility that Teams without Walls refers to.
The clinical governance of an area and its problems will be known to the local secondary care services, and they will know it across the board. There has been concern about conflicts of interest, yet a medical director in a trust represents a range of different specialties, and that has not been a problem. Clinicians have learnt how to do it. The Royal College of Physicians has produced guidance. It will produce guidance on a competitive appointment process whereby the best person for the job gets the job, and it has produced a clinical commissioning hub as a support for secondary care in its involvement in clinical commissioning groups. You could say that the basic rule of physics pertains—two negatives make a positive. It is difficult to understand why the conflict of interest that the GPs will experience, where they may be providing part of secondary care services themselves, does not matter in this, and yet it is completely prohibited to have a secondary care person who might understand how that interface between primary care and secondary care will work better at a local level. That person is excluded. It seems to work particularly against rural areas.
The last point I should like to make—apart from reminding the Government that the absolute reverse principle has been in place with the local education and training boards, where local people are involved in the very processes of commissioning the education—is about the people who will come forward. We already know that, to date, there is underrepresentation of secondary care. A clinician who is going to apply to be on a board and leave their clinical service, travel long distances and be involved elsewhere is not going to be the clinician who is completely dedicated to their local NHS service. The clinician who is dedicated to their local service and driving up care for patients is going to be the very person who will be most motivated to work with the clinical commissioning group to improve the services and the seamlessness across the piece. Excluding local clinicians seems unnecessarily to be closing down flexibility.
My Lords, this is a debate about conflicts of interest and getting the right person for the job. During the passage of the Bill, my noble friend Lady Barker led the call for conflicts to be declared where a board member has connections with a provider, where GPs can provide secondary services from their practices and where there are connections with commissioning support organisations. This was deemed right and proper, and was incorporated into the Bill.
It is important that the right people sit on clinical commissioning group boards and there are clear guidelines about competence, as well as protocols about conflicts of interest. This piece of secondary legislation puts restrictions on a clinical commissioning group in the choice of its members, irrespective of their competence, in two areas. One restricts councillors from being on the board and the other restricts the clinicians to those who work for providers from whom the clinical commissioning group does not commission services.
Time restricts me from addressing both issues so my noble friend Lady Williams will address the area of clinicians. In nearly 10 years as a member of an NHS trust board, I have sat with members of all political parties and none, some of whom were councillors. Where we had conflicts, they were declared. In that time, everyone left their party allegiances at the door. They were clear that they were there to look after the interests of the NHS in their patch, and had the skills and competences required for that role. It has been like this all over the country for years. It is worth mentioning that the work of Torbay Care Trust, which has been referred to frequently, depended on both NHS non-executive directors and councillors being on the board and working together.
Clinical commissioning groups want the right person for the role. They advertise, interview and appoint. It might be that the right person is a councillor, or not. This SI restricts their choice. Councillors know the community and, furthermore, particularly in the beginning, could have given useful guidance on the workings of the council because that is an area where GPs have generally not ventured—unless of course they are a councillor and a GP. This legislation has an unintended consequence for both doctors and indeed a nurse appointed as one of the two clinicians. The LGA wrote to the then Secretary of State as soon as the SI was published. The letter was signed by Councillor David Rogers, who is chair of the LGA Community Wellbeing Board and the only councillor member of the NHS Future Forum. He wrote:
“We do not accept the case for barring councillors from the governing body who hold professional roles within the NHS, as the reason for the appointment would be their professional experience within the health service—such as the GP … The Government, if it does not listen, is in danger of creating an unintended consequence of both discouraging experienced health service personnel from getting involved in their clinical commissioning group and from discouraging them from getting involved with their local authority”.
Councillor Rogers adds:
“I know that you are fully aware that all councils have standing orders that address conflicts of interest. We expect all public bodies, including clinical commissioning groups, to have equivalent rules regarding membership of their governing bodies but the proposed statutory instrument is far too wide-reaching and disproportionate. It will not only affect GP councillors serving on the governing bodies of clinical commissioning groups but any health professional group that a clinical commissioning group decides it wants represented on the governing body”.
I also received an email from a councillor GP who had been told that he had to make his mind up. Did he want to sit on the clinical commissioning group or did he want to remain a councillor? This level of restriction was not mentioned during the passage of the Bill. He asks:
“What are the justifications for this action which makes clinical commissioning groups the most politically restricted Public Body within the UK ? Where is the evidence”—
we spent a lot of time during the passage of the Bill trying to ensure that things were evidence-based—
“that this is in the public interest? Will GPs be banned from holding political office as Councillors on the basis that they could influence Health and Well Being Boards?”.
I should like the Minister, in summing up, to reassure the House that this was indeed an unintended consequence, and that when the implementation of the Bill is reviewed in 2014, clinical commissioning group governance will indeed be part of that review. Also, for those councillors who would have wished to become engaged in the commissioning of services, will he indicate how the clinical commissioning group might still involve them, so that their skills and competences are not lost?
My Lords, I declare an interest, which is in the Register of Lords’ Interests. I want briefly to address two points. The first regards the wording that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has tabled for the debate, which concerns the prohibition of,
“a registered nurse or secondary care specialist if employed by a body which provides any relevant service to a person for whom the Clinical Commissioning Group has responsibilities”.
My second point is simply about local authority members being members of clinical commissioning groups.
In the past two months, I have had in-depth discussions with four CCGs in different parts of the country. I will be visiting a fifth tomorrow. The impression that I get, quite understandably, is that they are very variable. Some are only just getting established and hardly have their membership in place, and others are well under way. We expect that. It is a new architecture. CCGs have a lot to do, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, said, and some are quicker than others. We would expect that.
However, in one of the London CCGs, the consultant from a well known and respected London teaching hospital, which is outside the CCG area and its commissioning remit, is clearly playing an important part in advising the CCG—as is the very impressive nurse. Neither has any conflict of interest within the CCG because they are people from outside, but they are using their experience, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said, to explain clearly the implications of some of the decisions that could be taken in future. I thought that the CCG was getting really good advice and I could see how that was going to inform it in the future.
If the regulations are amended to allow local trust employees to take part in the commissioning arrangements, I think that there will be a real conflict of interest. In rural areas such as Cumbria, virtually all the patients are treated in one local hospital. There, the consultant and the nurse would have to declare an interest for nearly every contract placed, and they would hardly ever be in the room—they would always have an interest. In other areas where there is a huge choice of hospitals to go to, I can foresee that if the CCG does not incorporate a clinical consultant and a nurse from every hospital or every acute service, others will feel disfranchised if they are not part of that body. The alternative is an enormous CCG. We know that small boards are much more effective than very large ones. At the moment, the regulations suggest a membership of 12. As I said, my experience of visiting CCGs is that that works very well. I do not want to see a change in the regulations, as I think that there would be too many vested interests and there could be problems with the board getting decisions made.
We know that a lot of change is going to be needed in the NHS and this will require a lot of skill and some very tough decisions. My concern is that, if we put councillors on the boards, we will have even less opportunity to make the changes that the King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust, for example, are telling us that we need. We have to ensure that there is more care in the community and less in hospitals. We know that that is what the majority of people want if the services in primary care are really good, and we should be working towards that.
I was a parish, a district and a county councillor concurrently. Then, the Secretary of State, Norman Fowler—now my noble friend Lord Fowler—appointed me to chair Brighton Health Authority. I tried to carry out those dual roles for a year or two but in the end I resigned my position as a county councillor because I had a conflict of interest. It was very difficult to really represent my electorate and to be an effective member of the health authority.
There are many good things in the Bill but there is one that I think is very good. As many of your Lordships know, I have fought over many years to get politics out of the day-to-day running of the NHS, and I have a real fear about bringing in councillors. After all, councillors are there to be voted for. For a councillor, every adult has a vote and that is really important. In the NHS, we cherish looking to evidence—it is a gold standard. I have also been working with health and well-being boards. My experience is that on the whole councillors are more interested in what individual voters want than in clinical evidence, and I think that bringing them on board in these bodies would be a great mistake. Where they should come together—and a lot has been said about integration—is on health and well-being boards. I have seen some really exciting developments in those bodies. That is where local government and the NHS meet. The director of adult services is on the health and well-being board. There is also Healthwatch, as well as other organisations, and that is where the strategy should and will be established, especially regarding public health. However, I do not think that councillors, who are expanding the role that they have and are doing so very diligently, should be involved in the detailed contractual arrangements for individuals within the population.
Strategy is with the health and well-being boards, where it should be, and I fear that if we bring in councillors we will undo some of the good work that we have done in getting the politics out of the NHS and reinstating it at a local level. That will be very damaging. We have seen MPs fight for their hospitals. These changes are very necessary if the NHS is to be strengthened and survive, but councillors will not want to vote for closures. They will want to keep everything open as it is now, because we know that that is where the pressure lies. Therefore, unsurprisingly, I shall be voting against the proposition of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and as an adviser to KPMG, which I understand also advises on health matters, although I do not advise it on those matters.
In this debate we are perhaps being asked to suspend our disbelief that the governance arrangements for the clinical commissioning groups make sense. We are being asked to suspend our belief on the question of whether pigs may fly. However, the extraordinary statement from the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, that somehow locally elected councillors are incapable of making decisions which affect the livelihoods of the populations that elect them is disgraceful.
I understand that. My point is that the noble Baroness does not seem to understand that today, all over the country, locally elected councillors are making decisions about closures because they are having to balance the reductions in budgets that this Government are forcing on them and on their local communities. They are making those decisions on behalf of the people whom they represent. Why is it being said that somehow they have a conflict of interest which means that they are incapable of making decisions along with colleagues about health matters?
There are issues of principle here and issues of sheer practicality. The issue of principle concerns conflict of interest. The noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, has talked about conflict of interest. Perhaps we will also hear about that from the noble Earl in a minute. However, the biggest conflict of interest will be the fact that the primary care practitioners are key elements of the boards of CCGs’ governing bodies. They are not being excluded; it is just everyone else who is being excluded. Let us be clear about who is being excluded. It is not simply elected members but any employee not just of the local authority in the CCG’s area but of any local authority in the country. Therefore, any person who, under paragraph (4) of Regulation 12, the CCG feels has knowledge about the area and who does not have the misfortune of being an elected councillor but does have the misfortune of being a part-time employee of a neighbouring local authority is exempt.
When the Minister replies, I should like him to explain to us why every single employee of every single local authority in the country is being excluded from participation in CCGs. While he is about it and we are talking about conflicts of interest, we have already heard the point made by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath that any person who has been public-spirited enough to decide to become—and frankly it is a fairly meaningless undertaking—a member of a local foundation trust or a local NHS trust is also excluded from membership of a CCG. Again, what is the point of that? It is being said that any person who is public-spirited enough already to have had some engagement with the local NHS is not allowed to sit on the board of the CCG.
This is frankly fatuous. You have ended up with a situation in which you have enshrined one set of conflicts of interest and excluded from the membership of the CCG all sorts of other people who could make a valuable and useful contribution. I am afraid that for the first time in our considerations I agree with 99% of what the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, said. The 1% with which I disagreed was that we should allow this instrument to go through and review it again in two years’ time. It is so flawed and riddled with poorly thought-out considerations of what would work at local level, and so dismissive of the best judgment of local people to decide who is best to be part of the board, that frankly we should endorse my noble friend’s Motion. I urge the Minister to withdraw the regulations and bring forward revised, more sensible regulations.
I have some sympathy with what has been said, but I want to raise a slightly different issue, which arose from what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and the noble Lord, Lord Warner. I remember well during our long debates on the Health and Social Care Bill that one of the central issues that was brought out time and again both in the broad debates and in the amendments that were tabled were two guiding principles. One was the integration of health services that are absolutely crucial to the changes that need to be made if we are to get through the period of the Nicholson challenge and provide a better experience for patients. The second, alongside integration, was the concept all the way through of bringing together the different professions in a common approach on to how to deal with health services. In Clauses 13 and 14 of the original Bill, now an Act of Parliament, these two themes are pressed, insisted upon and underlined over and over again. Another issue was localisation and the need to try to devolve decisions about health down to a lower level.
What troubles me is that we are now seeing CCGs not as microcosms of that integration and an attempt to try to bring health services together but as being out on their own, essentially as a way of managing the general practitioner contribution to the health service. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, to whom I always listen very closely, was not wholly correct on one point. There is a section of general practitioners who have gone into commissioning. The sad thing is that the 4% or so who have done so are among the very best in the profession. GPs are losing their very best and most experienced leaders to commissioning, which may be essential but means that they are no longer able to give the same leadership to GPs that used to be the case. That is rather serious.
How does one offset that loss of leadership quality of the finest GPs? The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, is absolutely right that it can be offset only to some extent by secondary care consultants and registered nurses to try to bring the understanding that was rather deliciously and beautifully described by Sir David Nicholson as being the element of compassion, concern and patient involvement required if one is to have CCGs become not businesses but in effect beacons of what was a great public service and that could continue to be a great public service. One cannot get that if one excludes secondary care consultants and a whole group of registered nurses from serving anywhere except on their own patch.
I hope that the Minister can tell us that the wise advice offered by Mister Nicholson—sorry, I know that he is Sir Someone Nicholson—to him and the Department of Health that there ought to be recognition of a more relaxed attitude, which should be taken on board. How does one take it on board? By recognising that the very tough conflicts of interest legislation that was put through this House with the support of all parties is strong enough to deal with people who have come from the same patch but in any way misuse or abuse that position by trying to gain financial advantage for themselves.
The regulations are amazingly strong on financial accountability—I recognise that they have to be, given the scale of the Nicholson challenge—but they are extraordinarily weak in indicating the crucial nature of quality and of quality being maintained in the service. There is one reference in the regulations to quality that is a subsection of a subsection. Yet when we look to see whether GPs are performing their roles seriously, we see that they have to be responsible for the quality of the service being offered. Frankly, in the light of some recent events, including Mid Staffs, it is critical that GPs and consultants see themselves, along with nurses, as having a common responsibility for maintaining the quality of the health service that we provide.
The other point that I want to make really quickly is that I believe that there is another area we have not talked about so far in the regulations and which worries me deeply. Maybe the Minister can say something about this. Regulation 16 refers on two major occasions to the board of the CCG being able to decide that reviewing either the papers discussed at the CCG meetings or, even more seriously, information about fees, remuneration and allowances may not be published if,
“it would not be in the public interest”.
I worry very much about that. The wording is troubling. Anyone who has lived through the experience of Mid Staffs, let alone others, will know that one of the really dangerous developments would be to try to prevent the public from knowing about things that are going wrong. We cannot do that any more. That world has gone. Even the medical profession must recognise that. I say with great respect to the profession that one cannot maintain the argument that the opposite of transparency is somehow in the public interest. I hope that the Minister, for whom all of us have the greatest possible respect, will look at those three issues. The first issue is whether people should not be allowed to serve in their own area, which they know and which they understand how to integrate in a way that people from outside the area simply cannot understand in the same way.
The second is how we deal with allowing people to serve on CCGs, even though at the moment it looks as though it might be very difficult for them to do so. Related to that is whether nurses can be chairs on CCGs as well as simply members. The final issue is that of transparency and where the regulations should be rewritten in order to show that there should be an assumption of transparency unless there are overwhelming reasons why there should not be: where it is not so much not in the public interest as directly against the interests of patients—that is a better way to put it.
I am afraid that my message tonight will be rather familiar. Although I listened carefully to the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, whom I respect enormously for her experience, I am afraid that I cannot agree with her. Commissioning services in the NHS is an extremely complex activity. For CCGs to make rational decisions, they need the best data and information available about their populations and how to meet their needs.
I understand that economists talk about perfect and imperfect markets. Perfect markets exist where both the purchaser and provider know exactly what they are getting and giving. This is particularly important when we talk, for example, about packages of integrated care, especially care across the hospital community divide. Who better to provide the data and information that CCGs need than those working locally in our hospitals? CCGs should not only understand the needs of their populations; they also need to know something about what can realistically be provided locally to meet those needs. Relevant questions might include whether the local hospital provider has the relevant orthopaedic surgeons who can do specialised and complicated knee or hand surgery, whether it has the oncologists and haematologists to deal with all cancers or only some, and whether it has the relevant up-to-date scanning facilities. There will be a dozen other questions that only local knowledge can answer.
It seems obvious to many in the field that local specialists and nurses from the local trust are in much the best position to provide the answers, and to engage constructively with GPs in the provision of services. The idea that there is a conflict of interest appears to me to be nonsense. Of course there is local interest. Local consultants and nurses are there to provide local knowledge and information. The idea that consultants and nurses from elsewhere can be parachuted in to provide local information is asking too much, quite apart from the problem of whether another trust will be willing to allow its staff time off to travel around the country.
We do not want or need disinterested clinicians in the CCGs; we need interested clinicians. I hope that the noble Earl will listen if not to my noble friend Lord Hunt then to the royal colleges, which are very strongly in favour of local input from the secondary sector.
My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for tabling this Motion, which provides a welcome opportunity to clarify the Government’s intentions in making these regulations on clinical commissioning groups—an opportunity that I feel is rather necessary in the light of some of the speeches that we heard this evening.
The regulations set out the legal requirements on the size and membership of a CCG’s governing body. Together with amendments made to the National Health Service Act 2006 by the Health and Social Care Act 2012, they provide a clear legal framework within which CCGs can appoint their governing body and develop appropriate governance arrangements. CCGs will be different from previous commissioning organisations. They will be built on the GP practices that together make up the membership of the CCG. These member practices must decide, through developing their constitution, how the CCGs will operate. They must ensure that they are led and governed in an open and transparent way that allows them to serve their patients and population. It is vital that CCGs are clinically led, with the ownership and engagement of their member practices, so that they can bring together advice, as noble Lords emphasised, from the broadest range of healthcare professionals to influence patterns of care and to focus on patients’ needs.
That is a necessary preface to the subject that has been the focus of much of tonight’s debate: the role of the governing body of the CCG. Following the NHS Future Forum, we introduced measures in the then Health and Social Care Bill to strengthen governance arrangements for CCGs, primarily through the requirement for each CCG to have a governing body that would have responsibility for ensuring that the CCG operates effectively, efficiently and economically, and does so with good governance. As we discussed during the passage of the Bill, our intention was to provide the public with greater confidence that CCGs would have suitable governance arrangements in place, including independent views and strong leadership, and would have proper checks and balances for the stewardship of public money. CCGs will be the guardians of significant amounts of taxpayers’ money. It is therefore only right that there are strict requirements in relation to governance, probity and transparency of decision-making. We must balance the benefits of the clinical autonomy of doctors with a robust management of potential or actual conflicts of interest. It is essential to get this right, and that means a proportionate and reasonable approach.
The Health and Social Care Act already provides real safeguards against conflicts of interest. The CCG must make arrangements in its constitution for managing conflicts and ensuring the transparency of its decision-making process, and it must have appropriate governance arrangements, including a governing body with lay members and other health professionals. These arrangements will be scrutinised by the NHS Commissioning Board as part of the process of ensuring that a CCG is fit to be established as a commissioner.
The requirements in relation to the secondary care doctor and registered nurse are therefore part of an overall package of requirements to ensure that they operate with good governance. We made clear in the Government’s response to the NHS Future Forum in June last year that neither the secondary care doctor nor the registered nurse should be from a local provider in order to prevent any potential conflicts of interest. We did that because a conflict of that nature would be a constant issue for a secondary care provider, given that CCGs will be responsible for commissioning the vast majority of hospital services. In contrast, CCGs will not commission primary care—that will be the responsibility of the NHS Commissioning Board. Therefore, for the most part, GPs on the governing body do not have a conflict of interests, and in any case GPs will not necessarily be in the majority on a CCG governing body.
On any occasion where CCGs consider commissioning local community services, arrangements must be made to manage both actual and potential conflicts of interest in such a way as to ensure that they neither affect the integrity of the CCG’s decision-making process nor appear to do so. The NHS Commissioning Board has issued guidance and a code of conduct for CCGs to deal with that set of circumstances.
What then is the role of the secondary care doctor and registered nurse on a CCG governing body? Their primary role, along with other members of the CCG governing body, will be to ensure that the governing body exercises its functions effectively and with propriety and absolute fairness. However, each member of a governing body will be expected to bring additional perspectives to underpin the work of a CCG. For the specialist doctor and the registered nurse, this perspective will be to provide a view beyond primary care and a broader understanding of health and social care issues—specifically patient care in a secondary care setting for the specialist doctor and, for the nurse, the contribution of nursing to patient care.
That is different from the role of clinicians in commissioning. Involving clinicians in commissioning has been one of the primary goals of our healthcare reform. I need to underline that as it is very much separate from the specific role of the CCG governing body. The detailed work on service design will not be done by the governing body of a CCG: rather, it will be done by the CCG itself, working with clinical networks and other multiprofessional groups. The governing body will have oversight of the governance of this decision-making process.
CCGs have a legal duty to obtain advice from people with a broad range of professional expertise when carrying out their commissioning responsibilities. My noble friend Lady Williams was absolutely right in saying what she did on that score. This could involve, for example, a CCG employing or retaining healthcare professionals to advise the CCG on commissioning decisions. Local knowledge and an in-depth understanding of local health issues will come not only from local GPs and their member practices but from other local clinicians, including local secondary care clinicians, who will work with CCGs to review local health needs and design local services. So the arguments presented by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and others around excluding local secondary care clinicians from the governing body as affecting the quality of the CCGs commissioning are wholly misplaced.
As to the restrictions placed on councillors preventing them from serving on CCG governing bodies, I start with a point of principle. We have been very keen from the outset of our reform programme to limit political interference in the day-to-day activities of the NHS. We have always been clear about that. Consequently, in addition to local authority members, we are also excluding MPs, MEPs and London Assembly Members from serving on a CCG governing body. However, our proposals do not mean that councillors are excluded from CCGs. A local councillor may still serve as a member of a committee or sub-committee of a CCG governing body, with the exception of the remuneration committee, as long as a CCG has set out the arrangements for such a committee in its constitution. A councillor falls within the description of an individual “specified in the constitution” as being eligible for membership of a committee. A CCG may provide in its constitution for any function of the governing to be exercised on its behalf by a committee or a sub-committee of the governing body, or by any individual of a description specified in the constitution. These arrangements could therefore allow for a local councillor to play a pivotal role in the CCG’s decision-making without formally being on the governing body.
Let me make it clear that we all fully appreciate the substantial contribution that local councillors make to commissioning. However, we decided that the most appropriate and effective way for councillors to influence NHS commissioning was through health and well-being boards, as my noble friend Lady Cumberlege rightly pointed out. This approach, if I may say to my noble friend Lady Jolly, gives councillors and local authorities a significant opportunity to influence NHS decision-making at a strategic level, working in partnership with CCGs and other community partners to identify local needs and agree health and well-being strategies. It avoids, however, confusing lines of statutory accountability by having them sit on the governing body of organisations that are accountable for the use of NHS funds allocated by the Secretary of State and the NHS Commissioning Board.
The NHS Future Forum concluded that health and well-being boards should be the focal point for decision-making about health and well-being. This will enable local authorities to work in partnership with CCGs and other community partners to identify local needs and agree the strategies I have referred to. CCGs must involve health and well-being boards from the start in developing their commissioning plan, so there is no question of separating councillors from the business of setting local priorities and strategies for an area. By involving local councillors, the representatives of people using services through local Healthwatch and through wider engagement with local communities, health and well-being boards will strengthen the local democratic legitimacy of health services and increase the influence of local people.
Perhaps I may turn briefly to a few of the questions, although I am happy to follow up in writing those that I do not answer. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked why we have excluded NHS foundation trust members from serving on CCG governing bodies. I need to clarify that NHS foundation trust members are not excluded from serving on CCG governing bodies. It will be possible for a CCG to appoint an NHSFT member to its governing body if it has made provision for this in its constitution. However, they will be excluded from performing either of the two mandatory lay roles. I think that that is where the misunderstanding about the officers of a local authority, such as directors of adult social services, has arisen. They can sit on the governing body of a CCG but they may not be one of the lay members.
My Lords, the question I was asked was about the officers of local authorities, and I hope I have clarified that. A member of a local authority is an elected councillor, of course, and is debarred from a governing body, as we have discussed. If the noble Lord, Lord Harris, will allow me, I will write to him on the point.
They may be excluded from being a lay member, but one of the lay members is defined as someone who has,
“knowledge of the local area”.
However, if by chance they happen to be a part-time employee of any local authority in the country, they are excluded, and I want to know why that is. Why not leave it to the good judgment of the local people?
Before the noble Earl leaves the issue of lay members, I have a question about having only two lay members—I am sorry that I did not jump up in time to ask it before he started summing up. The noble Earl and I sat opposite each other for several years discussing regulatory reform of the NHS, and one thing that I think we agreed on was that for all the new regulatory bodies that are now appointing lay members, 50:50 was the right balance to ensure proper regulation and accountability. Why is that not the case with the CCGs? What is different here? We felt that it was safer to have 50% in the regulatory reform of the NHS. Why do we not have 50% on the CCGs?
My Lords, it will be up to local CCGs to determine their own constitutions, as I have said. What we are attempting to do in these regulations is simply to set down the bare minima. As we discussed during the passage of the Act—these provisions were well rehearsed—providing there are two lay members, a secondary care clinician, a nurse and an accountable officer, that is the extent of the prescriptiveness that we feel is appropriate from the centre. Otherwise, it looks very much like the Government dictating the governance arrangements. The Future Forum’s recommendations were very clear that we should not go down that path.
It was suggested that CCGs were experiencing difficulties in appointing secondary clinicians or a registered nurse. I understand the concerns that noble Lords have raised on that score but I have recently spoken to the NHS Commissioning Board, which has started the process of considering applications from emerging CCGs. The news I have is that CCGs have so far successfully recruited to these roles. In addition, the medical and nursing royal colleges have offered to help CCGs in sourcing appropriate candidates, which is very welcome.
The noble Lord, Lord Warner, referred to the HSJ article of 11 October. I will clarify my answer when I write to him, which I will be happy to do. We are very pleased not only that so many clinicians have chosen to apply for leadership roles, which they have, but that so many first-rate clinicians have done so, whether as clinical chairs or clinical officers in CCGs. What is important is that there is a good mix of expertise in the broader leadership team of clinicians and managers, to help the CCG discharge its responsibilities effectively, and that is what we are now seeing.
I have a number of examples of where the drive towards integration is really taking shape on the ground. My noble friend Lady Jolly mentioned South Devon and Torbay; this is a service designed by secondary care doctors and GPs working together in a clinical pathway group for urology, and the whole impetus of the CCG is to improve collaboration and get over the gulf between primary and secondary care. There is another excellent example of integrated services in Wokingham, which again I would be happy to write about.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, asked whether police commissioners and Peers could be members of a CCG governing body. Yes, they can. He also asked who was consulted over these regulations. As I have indicated, the proposals were developed in response to the NHS Future Forum, the listening exercise that set out requirements around the secondary care doctor and registered nurse. The proposals were further discussed with emerging CCGs, primary care organisations, the medical royal colleges and, yes, colleagues in the NHS Commissioning Board Authority.
The regulations discussed today provide a fair and transparent rules-based framework to complement the provisions in the Health and Social Care Act around the establishment of CCGs. Creating a responsible and accountable CCG with good governance is essential for good management, good performance, good stewardship of public money, good public engagement and—our ultimate goal—good outcomes for patients. I commend the regulations to the House.
My Lords, I shall be brief. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Howe. He started by referring to the importance of clinical leadership and I would not disagree with him, but he has not really answered the point that the biggest potential conflict of interest is if GPs are in a majority on the boards—and I would hazard a guess that, in most places, they will be. They do not commission primary care, but their decisions can shift resources into primary and community care services. That is the essential conflict of interest.
The Government’s legitimisation of what must be some of the worst drafted regulations that I have ever come across would stand up in relation to conflicts of interest in other professions if one had any inkling at all that they recognised that CCGs carry a huge risk in relation to the GPs’ own position. The Minister said that the CCGs are about clinical leadership. As my noble friend Lord Warner pointed out, you are not even getting that, because only 20% or so of the accountable officers of those CCGs are to be GPs. The remainder are to be managers. Let us be clear: the accountable officer will in effect be the chief executive. The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said that the exclusion of local consultants and nurses from CCGs would mean that, in large parts of the country, the people appointed would have no local knowledge whatever. I agree that, in London, it may be more practical; in most of the rest of the country, it will not be.
I agree with all the points raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Jolly and Lady Williams, but it is not sufficient to say that there will be a review in 2014. At this late stage, I invite them to join us in the Lobbies tonight. I could not disagree with anything that either noble Baroness has said. They tore apart the regulations. Will they not join us tonight?
I was amazed by the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege. She came to the health service, as did I, through local government. Local government is having to take some immensely tough decisions. Having a local authority councillor around the board table of a CCG would help legitimise its decisions and help tie in the local authority with difficult decisions that have to be made. Excluding them is a huge mistake. I do not understand—clearly, the department forgot them—why elected police commissioners are deemed worthy of service on a CCG board when elected MPs and councillors are not. When my noble friend Lord Prescott is duly elected a police commissioner in a few weeks’ time, as one hopes, he will be eligible to serve on the whole clinical commissioning group, but no MP and no councillor. These are some of the most nonsensical regulations that I have ever seen.
The Minister said that we should not worry because local authority councillors, local doctors and local nurses can serve on the committees of a CCG—no conflict of interest there—but they cannot serve on the board. However, the board is the sovereign decision-making body of the CCG. I would have thought that most clinical commissioning groups would have wanted to have local expertise, whether it is local authority representation, a doctor or a nurse.
The Minister then said that these are only minimum requirements. Well, Schedule 4 states:
“Individuals excluded from being lay members of CCG governing bodies … An employee of a local authority in England and Wales or of any equivalent body in Scotland or Northern Ireland … A chairman, director, governor, member or employee of an NHS foundation trust”.
Excluding a chairman, director or governor of a foundation trust is fair enough, but a member? My trust has 100,000 members. Patients are automatically enrolled in membership of my trust unless they decide to opt out. We are talking about 100,000 people living in the catchment area of my hospital who are not allowed to be lay members of a CCG. Surely they are the very people you would want to be lay members of a CCG.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl for that enormously helpful clarification. The point is this: why should they not be statutory lay members of the CCG? There is no guarantee that CCGs will appoint any more lay members. I have yet to hear any rational explanation as to why this statutory instrument has been drafted in this way.
As we know, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, is a very fair man and always engages in debate. He will know that this statutory instrument has been ripped apart tonight. Even at this late hour, I ask him to withdraw the instrument. If he is not prepared to do so, I will test the opinion of the House.