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NHS: Health and Social Care Act 2012

Volume 760: debated on Monday 16 March 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 on innovation by National Health Service clinicians.

My Lords, the Act created the architecture within which NHS England’s innovation, health and wealth strategy is being implemented. As part of this, the innovation scorecard shows a real improvement in the uptake of certain NICE-approved innovations. The NICE implementation collaborative has also resulted in increased national spend on key technologies. The department and NHS England have commissioned an independent evaluation of innovation, health and wealth, which is expected to be completed by winter 2017.

I am grateful to the noble Earl for that Answer, but does he recognise that there is a significant gap between those fine words and what is actually happening on the ground? To take the case of giant cell arteritis, for example, 2,000 to 3,000 people go blind needlessly as a result of it. I hope the House will indulge me for a few seconds if I set out this important example. The condition is easily treatable. Professor Dasgupta, in Southend, has pioneered a fast-track pathway for diagnosis and treatment which has reduced the numbers of people going blind by two-thirds. Rolled out nationally, that would save thousands of people every year from going blind. It would save them and their families needless misery and suffering and would save the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds every year.

In January, Sir Bruce Keogh, the medical director of NHS England, wrote to me and said that this “represents a new way of doing things which is better and costs no more. We must learn from such innovative examples”. Is the Minister aware of what has happened since he wrote to me? Thousands of people have gone blind—

Noble Lords opposite ought to listen to this; the people who suffer most from this are elderly and it is very much in their own interests to listen. Nothing has been done to roll out this innovative pathway. Can the Minister not accept that having a few guidelines is simply not good enough? Can he not accept that since the Health and Social Care Act came in, there has been no good example of good practice in this area?

My Lords, I recognise the noble Lord’s close interest in this important topic. We recognise that early diagnosis and treatment of giant cell arteritis is extremely important to preventing sight loss. I am aware of the interest in the Southend GCA pathway developed by Professor Dasgupta. I recently raised the issue of the pathway with NHS England and understand Sir Bruce Keogh will be writing to the noble Lord very shortly about this. As he may be aware, the Royal College of Physicians has produced a best practice guideline on the diagnosis and management of GCA, which Professor Dasgupta has helped to develop. That is good progress and provides a very good framework for disease assessment, immediate treatment and urgent referral.

My Lords, the noble Earl has been answering health Questions for nearly five years now with courtesy and skill. How does he feel, as possibly the sole apologist, other than Mr Andrew Lansley, for the Health and Social Care Act 2012? What is his response to the independent King’s Fund, which described the Act, which the noble Earl piloted through this House with great skill, as having an impact that was both “damaging and distracting”? Is that not the real answer to my noble friend? The reason he has identified a problem and a shambolic decision by NHS England is that we have a shambolic organisation, which this Government are responsible for.

If I had to single out two or three things from that Act which have been of enormous and incomparable benefit, one would be the enhancement and promotion of clinical leadership within the system, which has happened as a result of the creation of clinical commissioning groups. The second is the creation of Public Health England and the transformation of public health delivery in this country. The third is the separation of elected politicians from the running of the health service, which has enabled the NHS to free itself up to look at innovation in a more creative way

My Lords, does the noble Earl not agree that if specialist secondary clinicians worked a more significant part of their time in primary settings in the community, this would be a welcome innovation across the country?

I do agree. That idea is being taken up by a number of the vanguard sites, which are looking at the new models of care that were foreshadowed by the five-year forward view. It is, I think, the shape of things to come.

My Lords, it would be churlish not to accept the noble Earl’s remarks that there have been some changes which have been beneficial. But does he not agree that the public at large recognise that overall there have been many downsides? Many of those downsides have been hidden and continue to be hidden by politicians, who refuse to release the risk register that was drawn up prior to that Act going through.

My Lords, we are back to that one. As the noble Lord knows, the strategic risk register for the department is something that we are entitled to keep confidential, as all Governments have done. The Cabinet took the decision that the transition risk register should remain confidential because of the principle of the need to preserve private space for civil servants when advising Ministers.

My Lords, some months ago I led a debate on the lack of clinical governance between health and social care. I was promised a meeting with the noble Earl by the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly. One of the big problems is the fact that there is no governance framework between health and social care, and as a result a lot of people are falling into a black hole. Can the noble Earl say when that meeting will take place?

My Lords, I should be more than happy, as I always am, to meet the noble Countess. I am sorry if there has been a delay in that respect. I would be happy to talk to her one to one on that matter.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that one of the—I hope unintended—consequences of the Health and Social Care Act has been the disastrous effect on the recruitment of GPs, the number of people going into the GP profession and the number of people leaving the profession or who have said that they will be retiring early? It was described to me recently as an impending car crash.

My Lords, I think we all recognise that general practice is under unprecedented pressure but I would not attribute that to the 2012 Act; I would attribute it to the unprecedented rise in demand from patients. The NHS across the piece is busier than ever before and naturally that has an effect on morale. We are, however, taking steps to promote recruitment into general practice and to reduce the day-to-day burdens that are imposed on general practitioners.