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NHS: Clinical Commissioning Groups

Volume 742: debated on Wednesday 16 January 2013


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government why the NHS Commissioning Board is discontinuing the poverty element in the funding formula for allocation to clinical commissioning groups.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare my interests on the register.

My Lords, I can reassure the noble Lord that the board has not discontinued the poverty element of the funding formula. The board was concerned that while the formula provides an accurate model of healthcare need as currently met, if implemented it would target resources away from those areas with the worst health outcomes. It has therefore decided to give all clinical commissioning groups the same growth while launching a fundamental review of allocations.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for that explanation and understand that a flat-rate increase is to be given next year on top of the existing formula. Will he assure me that if the national Commissioning Board, after this review, decides not to go down the route that the previous Secretary of State, Mr Lansley, wanted this review to take—namely, to take money away from the poorer areas and give it to the well off areas—it will see no interference whatever from Ministers in relation to that decision?

My Lords, that is a very important principle. It is one of the reasons why we felt that the NHS Commissioning Board should be responsible for the allocation of resources to CCGs and not Ministers, to avoid any perception of party-political interference. However, the Government’s mandate to the board makes clear that we would expect the board to place equal access for equal need at the heart of its approach to allocations. That is why ACRA has been charged with developing formulae independently to support the decision that the board takes.

My Lords, the first rule of funding is that recipients are never happy with their allocation. Given that, will the Minister assure the House that, with new configurations that we have with public health and CCGs, the model used will regularly be reviewed to ensure that it remains fit for purpose?

Yes, my Lords. As I have indicated, as regards the NHS allocations, the board is clear that the model needs to be reviewed. That does not necessarily mean that it will need to change; the board will have to keep an open mind about that. Clearly, the board was not happy that the formula as currently constructed best met future needs. As regards public health, I think that we are in a better place. As my noble friend will know, the allocations were announced recently and they provide for considerable real-terms increases everywhere around the country.

My Lords, if the Commissioning Board decides to change the present formula, will the new proposal be subject to public consultation before it is implemented?

My Lords, ACRA, the independent committee, will take advice from all relevant quarters. I am sure that the advice it receives will be taken on board. I do not think that there will be a public consultation as such but, if I am wrong about that, I will write to my noble friend.

Will the noble Earl reassure us that this new allocation committee will take fully into account the fact that poor people have worse health and, therefore, in an equitable system, it will cost more to include them in the full services that the NHS can provide? Will he reassure us that that will be taken adequately into account and that proper measurements will be made of the health differences between social classes?

I can give the noble Lord that reassurance. ACRA is not a new committee; it has been long-established, and was a fundamental part of the previous Administration’s approach to funding allocations. I can say to the noble Lord that, by using diagnosis information, the formula that has been adopted for CCGs directly picks up a great deal of the increased prevalence of ill health due to deprivation. It also takes account of the proportion of the population in social housing and in semi-routine occupations, and the number of DLA claimants, which is closely related to deprivation.

Will the Minister assure the House that, if the board is able to find a formula more reflective of local need in terms of poverty and deprivation, the Government will look at it? They appear not to take such factors properly into account when looking at the revenue support grant which provides services for people in poverty. I declare an interest as someone who lives in Preston, Lancashire, whose needs are being met with a government cut. I am sure that the noble Earl would not approve of that.

I am pleased to say to the noble Baroness that there has been no cut at all in the allocations to clinical commissioning groups. Indeed, there is a real-terms increase everywhere in the country. I can also reassure her that this will not be a matter for Ministers; it will be decided independently by ACRA advising the board and the board taking the decision.

It is a very well-deserved honour. Does he have regular meetings with the chairman of the board, and what plans he has for that?

I am very grateful to my noble friend. I have meetings from time to time with the chairman of the NHS Commissioning Board, as does my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I also meet regularly with the chief executive of the Commissioning Board. It is important that there is that interaction between Ministers and the board if there is to be proper accountability.

Will the Minister say whether poverty was the only element that was removed and, if so, why was this singled out?

Poverty was not removed. As I hope I have outlined, there are various criteria reflecting deprivation which are most certainly relevant to the fair allocation of resources. Age is clearly another factor, because it would be difficult to envisage an allocation formula that did not take it into account; it is the key factor in determining an individual’s need for healthcare. That is not to say that other factors such as deprivation should not continue to be considered.

I would add congratulations from these Benches to the noble Earl on his very well-deserved honour which reflects the immense contribution he has made to this House. On the issue of poverty, is the existence of traditional industrial diseases, such as emphysema in mining areas, taken into account in the allocations that continue to be made between CCGs?

I am very grateful to my noble friend for her kind remarks. The information I have in my brief is as I have stated, in that the indicators reflecting deprivation are quite broad. However, it is for ACRA, the independent committee, to review those indicators to see that the measures are representative and accurate. I am grateful to my noble friend for pointing us towards some other indicators which could be relevant, and I shall make sure that her ideas are passed to the appropriate quarters.

My Lords, when the Minister says that the decisions on these allocations are, of course, not taken by Ministers, that is correct. However, can he confirm that it is equally correct that the criteria by which those decisions are made are influenced, judged and promoted by Ministers? Is not the most important thing that he said today that the primary determinant of this should be need? Here I declare an interest, because I had to address this when I was Secretary of State for Health. During the period 1979 to 1997, there was almost an indirect, inverse relationship between increases in funding for areas and their social and health deprivation. I am sure that had nothing to do with the coincidence of voting patterns in those areas of social and health deprivation, but it would be reassuring if he could tell us that that is not likely to happen during the term of this Government.

My Lords, we are determined that it should not happen. I am as aware as the noble Lord of the perception of party-political bias, and it is highly undesirable that there should be such a perception. That is why, in the mandate to the NHS Commissioning Board, we have stated simply that we believe that the right basis for allocating resources is to place equal access for equal need for healthcare services at the heart of whatever formula the board decides to follow.

My Lords, perhaps I may come back to that very important point. The fact is that the advisory committee, presumably following guidance from Ministers and officials, came up with a formula that would have taken money from poorer areas and allocated it to richer ones. That is why the national Commissioning Board decided not to accept it and to go for an across-the-board increase. In the noble Earl’s discussions on the mandate, will he ensure that the Commissioning Board is enabled to come to its own view on these decisions?

Yes, my Lords. In this case, the board concluded that the formula proposed by ACRA accurately predicted the future spending requirements of CCGs, but it was concerned that the use of the formula on its own to redistribute funding would predominantly have resulted in higher levels of growth for areas that already have the best health outcomes compared with those with the worst outcomes. In other words, the formula on its own would have disadvantaged precisely the areas that the noble Lord is most concerned about. On the face of it, this would appear to be inconsistent with the board’s purpose, which is to improve health outcomes for all patients and citizens, and to reduce inequalities, which is a key aspect of the mandate.

My Lords, as patients are to be at the heart of the new NHS from April, will it be the Commissioning Board or the Government who are responsible for advising patients throughout the country of their rights and responsibilities?

My Lords, the NHS constitution is currently under revision. It is a task for the Department of Health to take forward but, as the noble Lord will know, in the mandate and indeed in the Health and Social Care Act the Commissioning Board is charged with upholding and promoting the NHS constitution. The process of updating the constitution is, of course, subject to full public consultation.