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NHS England: Health and Social Care Act 2012

Volume 753: debated on Wednesday 7 May 2014

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to amend the Health and Social Care Act 2012 to permit the Secretary of State to give day-to-day directions to NHS England.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and draw Members’ attention to my interests.

My Lords, the Government have no such plans to amend the Health and Social Care Act 2012. We believe that the power and responsibility for commissioning services should be exercised by the healthcare professionals closest to patients. That is why we legislated through the Act to establish autonomous local clinical commissioning groups supported by NHS England, an independent and accountable national body.

My Lords, that is a pity because the 2012 Act must be the most flawed piece of health legislation there has ever been. On the question of autonomy, first, can the noble Earl tell me why CCGs are not allowed to be autonomous and why they are subject to very overbearing, day-to-day control by NHS England? Secondly, because NHS England is discriminating against the funding of mental health services and against the precept of parity of esteem, why are the Government not intervening and telling NHS England to reverse its policy?

My Lords, I do not accept that CCGs are subject to unreasonable controls from NHS England. It is the task of NHS England to support CCGs and hold them to account, and that is what I believe it is properly doing, not least through the outcomes framework. Ministers are not intervening on the question of mental health funding because funding is just one part of the story when it comes to parity of esteem. We have set NHS England a strategic objective to make measurable progress towards achieving true parity of esteem for mental health. NHS England is responsible for allocating funds to clinical commissioning groups, which are best placed to invest in services that meet the needs of their local communities. However, we will of course hold NHS England to account for that. What we must not do is to single out certain elements of the equation at this stage.

Can the Minister say whether the Ministers in the Department of Health are happy that NHS England has recommended a 20% deflater to tariffs for mental health that destroys any possibility of achieving any kind of parity of esteem?

My Lords, we are not happy with that and, as I have said in the House before, Ministers have made it very clear to NHS England that this decision is both surprising and unwelcome in view of the need to maintain parity of esteem. NHS England, the NHS Trust Development Authority and Monitor are addressing this issue vigorously and we have regular discussions with those bodies to ensure that mental health services do not suffer.

My Lords, I wonder whether the Secretary of State now regrets supporting those aspects of the Bill—now an Act— that put him at a distance from interfering in the National Health Service and its agencies. Will the Minister nudge his colleague the Secretary of State to show that the level of micromanaging he is indulging in disempowers and disables the very people and organisations that his legislation put in charge?

My Lords, it is important for me to point out that the Secretary of State is acting entirely and properly within his powers. He is under a legal obligation to keep the performance of NHS England under review. That is in the Act. He would not be doing his job if he was not keeping in touch with NHS colleagues and talking and listening regularly to feedback about how things are going. He is accountable to patients and to Parliament and I do not think the public would expect anything less.

My Lords, given that many Ministers have spoken very clearly about the priority for parity of esteem for mental health and the answers that my noble friend the Minister has given to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and others, what more can the Government do if NHS England continues to refuse to allocate funding fairly for mental health?

My Lords, as I have indicated already, we view funding as just one part of the story in achieving parity of esteem. However, we will hold NHS England rigorously to account for this and we have regular meetings to talk about that. We have set NHS England that strategic objective and we have singled out in particular action on crisis intervention, extending access to IAPT therapies and developing options around access and waiting time standards. Therefore there are a number of detailed issues that we expect NHS England to address.

My Lords, can I ask the Minister to draw attention to one other area? I was alarmed to read in a recent POSTnote —the very last paragraph of a document that is often very factually based and helpful to the House—that HIV/AIDS is likely to suffer from being commissioned by one group, delivered by another and overseen by yet another. I am quite sure that that is an area where we would want good co-ordination, and I hope that the Minister will ensure that it is properly monitored.

The noble Baroness is right to draw attention to sexual health services as an area that needs to be joined up. We are very aware of that. The commissioning arrangements are as she has stated but we are as confident as we can be that in most areas of the country the services are joined up, even if commissioned separately. It is an area that we keep under review very closely.