The Commons ended their Committee consideration of the Health and Social Care Bill last Thursday.
The proceedings illustrate that parallel universes really do exist. There is the one inhabited by Simon Burn MP, his boss Andrew Lansley MP and other Health Ministers and then there is the world the rest of us inhabit.
The first group is full of the jargon and management speak of NHS Reform. It is designed to obfuscate and sometimes mislead. Here is a typical extract from the proceeding on 15th March (col 690). It illustrates perfectly what I mean
“Monitor will become an economic regulator for health services. (It) will licence all providers of NHS funded service in a similar way to other economic regulators in other sectors”.
In plain English that means Monitor will be like utility regulators Ofcom, OfGem, or OfWat. Monitor will in future be responsible to the Competition Commission. Perhaps they can help? But no. When asked if the Competition Commission had any experience of improving the quality of patient care Health Minister Mr Burns replied (col 716)
“No, but it has considerable experience of competition policy”
Well that’s ok then!
Do we need to find a new name for Monitor? I am not sure OfHealth quite works, but all suggestions welcome.
There has been a discussion in the House on the future (or more probably the abolition) of two very important institutions: the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Human Tissue Authority. It was part of the larger debate on the Public Bodies Bill, consideration of which is nearing its end in the Lords.
We had a short but pointed debate. It began at 11pm on Monday. The Minister – the highly respected and well regarded Earl Howe – was isolated and couldn’t offer the assurance that Members’ sought. The future of two bodies that carry the burden of some of the most sensitive ethical issues in modern medicine is too important to be left until a late night discussion in a nearly empty chamber. We may need to return to this discussion during prime time.
Lord Low is a Cross Bencher with an amazing record of championing the disabled.
On Tuesday in Question Time he raised the matter of the Government’s strategy on blindness.
On Wednesday there were two short debates in the Grand Committee Room. These time limited debates (of an hour) allow Members to bring forward very specific questions for discussion.
A debate initiated by Baroness Thomas of Winchester was devoted to strategy and resources for conditions like muscular dystrophy. The second hour was devoted to Giant Cell Arteritis – a condition linked to a form of rheumatism and causes blindness if not detected and treated. This was promoted by Lord Wills. These debates are a very good way of holding the Government to account and raising sometimes neglected but important issues.
Thursday brought the 7th All-Peers’ Seminar on the Health and Social Care Bill. This one looked at tackling the issue of the patients’ voice and accountability. There was a very good discussion about how effective the proposals in the Bill might be and where the Bill may need strengthening.
In the afternoon there was a two hour debate about health care standards and commissioning. Lord Owen launched an Exocet with a masterly 4 minute contribution which ripped the Bill apart. Lord Owen has published a pamphlet called “Fatally Flawed” which, apart from its excoriating criticism of the Government’s proposals, advised the Prime Minister that he should sack and replace all his Health Ministers. I recommended the pamphlet to anyone with an interest in health policy. We shall see if the PM takes notice of the advice.
The week ended when Norman Tebbit took up the fight for the future of the NHS with some incisive remarks. It does make you wonder where the support is for this Bill?
“The ex-Cabinet minister and Margaret Thatcher’s former hatchet man admitted grave concerns they could do “considerable” damage to NHS hospitals.
His comments are the latest blow to David Cameron, following criticism from doctors, nurses and midwives.
Lord Tebbit said Health Secretary Andrew Lansley’s plans could bring “unfair” competition, enabling private firms to cherry pick.”
On Friday a group of Peers, again from across the House, had lunch with the Royal College of Physicians. During it we were given several presentations about the very serious concerns this important organisation has about the Government’s proposals. I was particularly struck by the problems of workforce recruitment and training. If it takes 15 years to produce the best consultants how will that be achieved with the fragmentation of the Health Service that this legislation brings?