Lord Bethell debates involving the Department of Health and Social Care during the 2019 Parliament

Thu 17th Nov 2022
Wed 16th Mar 2022
Health and Care Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 2 & Report stage: Part 2
Wed 26th Jan 2022
Health and Care Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 3 & Committee stage: Part 3
Wed 26th Jan 2022
Health and Care Bill
Lords Chamber

Lords Hansard - Part 1 & Committee stage: Part 1

Anaesthesia Associates and Physician Associates Order 2024

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Monday 26th February 2024

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

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Baroness Harding of Winscombe Portrait Baroness Harding of Winscombe (Con)
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My Lords, I support this Motion and, not for the first time in a debate on health, I find myself in almost complete agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the remarks he made earlier in an extremely powerful speech. We are exemplifying the right debate here, in that this is a subtle and important issue.

I do not wish to suggest that I challenge the esteemed clinicians from a number of the different clinical tribes who have spoken this evening. I speak as a non-expert, as a manager of people, and as a patient. Non-experts in healthcare would find it completely baffling that we have 3,000 people working day in, day out in clinical roles who are currently unregulated. It cannot be right, and I have not heard any argument this evening that suggests that anyone in the Chamber thinks it is right. I think we are all united in our agreement that these hard-working, brilliant people need proper professional statutory regulation.

I hope that, therefore, the order, as it stands, passes. But it is worth dwelling on why this has created so much controversy. Fundamentally, it is because change is hard—and people change is hard and scary. There is a real danger that we underestimate how important it is to look after the people who care for us, and that what we are really hearing from a number of the different clinical tribes is fear, frustration and hurt that they are not being looked after. The real tragedy is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, in the process we have made 3,000 more people feel hurt, unloved and uncared for in the awful debate out in the Twittersphere or X-sphere or whatever it is called.

I will not talk for very long. I just want to register that this has been far too long unfixed, that 20 years is too long for people to be practising without regulation, and that other countries around the world are far ahead of us on this. We should be discussing how we properly define the scope of practice and how we then extend that scope of practice, with the appropriate training for prescribing rights and the ability to order X-rays, just as happens in many other countries in the world. We are all in this Chamber rightly proud of the NHS, but we must not stick our heads in the sand and convince ourselves we are brilliant when others fixed this issue 20-plus years ago.

I finish by saying that regulation is clearly not enough. I completely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay: we have to recognise that our health and care workers feel unloved and uncared for. There are far too many stories of people unable to get a hot meal when they are working night shifts or having to cancel their own wedding because they are not rostered to be allowed to take the time off. None of that requires professional regulation; that requires professional management. We need both of those.

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, I hope that my noble friend the Minister will not mind if I say that I am very grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Bennett, Lady Brinton and Lady Finlay, for the regret amendments and this debate today. Secondary legislation comes through the House and too often we overlook it. Every now and again we need to put a spotlight on some of the important measures that go through.

I regret two things. I deeply regret the way in which the professions of associate physician and associate anaesthetist have been denigrated in the press, in the lobbying material that has been sent around, and, frankly, in aspects of this debate. I agree with my noble friend Lady Harding and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that the feelings and sentiment of these hard-working contributors to our healthcare system have been overlooked. I was sent a very robust briefing by the BMA. I replied: “Is there nothing positive you can say about these hard-working healthcare professionals?” The reply came back—the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, was copied in on it—that there was not: there was nothing positive it could say about them. I greatly regret that tone, and wish it had not happened.

I am not a clinician and I do not have anything to rival some of the comments made by the clinicians. However, I point out that our hard-working healthcare professionals are incredibly stretched. Take GPs, for instance: 350 million appointments were conducted in primary care last year, 160 million of which were by GPs themselves. That was 50 million more than in 2019, so 44 more appointments per practice. That trend is going up. Britain is getting less healthy, and there is a large amount of immigration. The number of full-time equivalent GPs—although the number of GPs has gone up, a lot of them are working fewer hours—has decreased from 28,000 in September 2015 to 27,000 in October 2023. The complexity of many people turning up to these appointments is very high.

We have to find people from somewhere to do some of these appointments, and there are going to be people who have a lot to contribute who do not necessarily go through the 10 years of qualification to become a GP. We should be embracing them. That is what is happening in every other professional walk of life—it is happening with the astronauts who fly to the moon, the people who fly our planes, and the lawyers who run our courts. The modernisation of workforces is happening everywhere; we should embrace that. My noble friend the Minister alluded to 12,000 AAs and PAs by 2036; that would be just 8% of the number of doctors. That is not a revolution or a threat that the doctors of Britain should be worried about.

If these regulations do not go through—the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has said that they will—then it would be difficult to enforce standards, there would be years of delay to regulate the professions, there would be a reduction in the number of healthcare professionals to support our healthcare system, and training programmes would be on hold. I support the passage of this legislation, so that we can modernise the workforce, increase primary care capacity, improve the lot of our hard-pressed GPs and make it easier for a wide range of talents to make a difference to the British healthcare system.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I will speak very briefly in favour of these regulations. I am absolutely in favour of any way in which we can leverage the ability of our doctors to concentrate on what they want to do, and what they have been highly and expensively trained to do, which is to take responsibility for seeing, diagnosing and treating patients who are ill and in need of medical help. I am also in favour of trying to reduce the exorbitant cost of locum GPs, which bleed resources from the National Health Service—resources which could be much better spent elsewhere. Some of the Government’s initiatives, such as allowing pharmacists greater and more extensive advisory and prescribing powers, are also very welcome.

I have no philosophical objection to the concept of physicians or anaesthetists being supported by assistants, whether they are senior nursing staff or others, but I share the concern that the very term “associate” implies a greater degree of qualification than is actually the case. Two years’ training post a science degree does not a doctor make. Of course they should be regulated by an organisation which enjoys public confidence, so long as that in itself does not imply a greater medical qualification.

It is easier to prevent overreach in a hospital environment, where supervision in anaesthesia should be routine, but it is much harder in general practice. The reason I rise now is because my husband was seen by a physician associate when his throat failed to heal weeks after he burned it with a hot cup of coffee. After the young man had taken a photograph and disappeared up the corridor with his phone, allegedly to see a GP, he reappeared with an ominous pamphlet entitled “Suspected throat cancer” and suggested an urgent appointment at the John Radcliffe Hospital. I am pretty sure he was not trained to be the bearer of such bad news. So undoubtedly physician associates need to be regulated, though I acknowledge it was better this way round than ignoring something and saying that there was no issue to be dealt with when there might have been.

We have 14 GPs in our local practice, in a small town in Oxfordshire: 11 work three days per week, none of them works full-time and one of them works one day per week. Perhaps we should also address the loss of 40 working days per week from any similar team, as well as putting in place things that make doctors’ working lives more rewarding and meaningful. If physician associates are part of that then I am fully supportive, so long as they are properly regulated. The Faculty of Physician Associates code of conduct, produced with the GMC, says that physician associates will always work under the supervision of a designated senior medical practitioner and that they must work within the limits of their experience. Let us make sure that these regulations will help make that happen.

Premature Deaths: Heart and Circulatory Conditions

Lord Bethell Excerpts
Tuesday 6th February 2024

(2 months ago)

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Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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Absolutely. These are all key parts of a good, healthy lifestyle for mind and body—for mental health as well. Social prescribing is important for all this as well.

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, following the appointment last year of Professor John Deanfield as the champion for personalised care, can my noble friend the Minister please update the House on the progress of his report on radical approaches to prevent life-threatening cardio- vascular disease?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I will need to come back in writing to my noble friend on this. I take this opportunity to thank him for his work on the Times Health Commission and for generally pushing forward the whole prevention agenda.

NHS: Doctors’ Strikes

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Wednesday 5th July 2023

(9 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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The noble Lord is absolutely correct; that is why I was delighted, as I think all sides of the House were, by the launch of the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan. As Amanda Pritchard, the CEO of the NHS, said, it was a “truly historic” moment for the NHS; it absolutely recognises that staff are the backbone of it all and that we need to do everything to recruit and retain them. Retention is all about professional development and all those things that make up staff morale.

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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I congratulate all noble Lords who joined me this morning on the five-kilometre fun run in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the NHS. It was a tremendous event and all those involved greatly enjoyed themselves. With that in mind, will my noble friend explain what the NHS is doing today to reduce the incredible pressures on doctors and nurses from the huge amount of sickness in the country and what it is doing to make Britain healthier in order to reduce those pressures?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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As my noble friend says, wellness is about a lot more than treatment in hospitals. That is why I was so pleased by the long-term workforce plan, which recognises the importance of primary care and, especially, prevention—the use of our whole wellness through social prescribing and keeping fit through things such as fun runs, which is important for keeping people and staff well. As part of that, we are working on the technology front, because a lot of the frustration of doctors is that they spend so much time not seeing patients but filling in paperwork and forms. Earlier this week, I saw all the changes Chelsea and Westminster Hospital is making so that doctors can be where they want to be—in front of patients and caring for them.

Long Covid

Lord Bethell Excerpts
Thursday 17th November 2022

(1 year, 4 months ago)

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Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for bringing about this important debate. She has held the Government’s feet to the fire—in fact, she held my feet to the fire—on this issue, and I absolutely commend her persistence.

Rehabilitation in general and post-viral syndromes in particular have a long history of being horribly overlooked in this country. I am afraid that this regrettable neglect has contributed darkly to the long-term poor health of many in this nation. However, before I speak about the consequences of this on long Covid, I will take a moment to recognise that Britain has done more than almost any other country to address long Covid. Professor Chris Whitty and the CMO’s office prioritised NIHR research, with £50 million going into 19 projects, giving a clear signal for other research. The NHS, and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Birmingham, launched a welcome five-point plan, as the noble Baroness mentioned, and Amanda Pritchard has rolled out excellent long-term long Covid clinics. Treatments such as monoclonal antibodies and pulmonary rehabilitation are emerging as a result. I pay tribute to Dr Harry Brünjes, who pioneered the Breathe programme at the English National Opera, which is a fantastic example of social prescribing that has produced some very promising clinical trial results. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, who kicked off the important REACT programme at Imperial College which has generated hefty longitudinal population studies. Lastly, I pay tribute to the patient groups, who are both vocal and thoughtful in their responses, for their testimony.

Despite these considerable collective efforts, I am sad to say that the long Covid story has become a parable for how the UK health system fails to protect people’s freedom from disease and illness. It fails to properly rehabilitate our sick, and we are paying a horrible economic price as a result. The scale of long Covid is enormous, as the noble Baroness rightly pointed out, but the clinical response I referred to is sadly inadequate. The ONS says that there are 1.5 million sufferers, yet the long Covid clinics can see only 60,000 patients per year. Patient groups are frustrated that, when they do get seen, clinicians do not have the latest pathways that might lead to positive outcomes. The NIHR agrees with patients that there are a lot of unanswered questions.

We are familiar in this country with the rationing of scarce health resources and the uneven distribution of the latest research—uncomfortable though that is—but I will focus a few words on the profound economic effects of this troubling British healthcare strategy. ONS data reports that 500,000 people have left the workforce over the last 18 months, and 75,000 of those are economically inactive due to long Covid. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has a slightly different figure of 110,000, and it says that the cost is almost £1.5 billion in lost earnings a year. Another IFS study suggests that there is an average of 2.5 hours of sick leave per worker being taken due to those who have long Covid. Either way, the OBR has recognised that Covid in the round could cost around £2.7 billion in welfare benefits such as incapacity and housing. That is an absolutely staggering sum.

My point is that we cannot shrug our shoulders about the impact of conditions like long Covid on the economy. We have to take on the challenge of making this country healthier and pivot towards prevention. Andrew Haldane, chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts, put it well in his recent speech:

“We’re in a situation for the first time, probably since the Industrial Revolution, where health and wellbeing are in retreat … Having been an accelerator of wellbeing for the last 200 years, health is now serving as a brake in the rise of growth and wellbeing of our citizens.”


Yesterday, Andrew Bailey, the Governor of the Bank of England, told the House of Commons Treasury Committee that part of the reason the country was being held back was the sharp decline in the size of the workforce since Covid.

Despite this, the Treasury plan for living with Covid makes no mention of investment in rehabilitation or major initiatives for getting the workforce back to work. Finances in the UK Health Security Agency and the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, the main legacy public health organisations—

Lord Framlingham Portrait Lord Framlingham (Con)
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Will the noble Lord give way, please? Does he agree there is a growing concern about the serious side-effects that the booster vaccinations can have? Does he agree with me that the Government should look at this very carefully?

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, the vaccine programme has been an astonishing success, and the uptake of those vaccines has shown the enormous public confidence in them. I will speak on another date about the profound impact this has had on the health of the nation.

My point here is that, at this moment when we are feeling the effects of Covid heavily on our workforce and economy, the finances at the UKHSA and OHID are under huge pressure. The public health infrastructure built over the pandemic has largely been dismantled. At the same time, we have an NHS straining to look after the sick and a workforce many of whom are too sick to work.

It is time that we work towards a new political settlement that prioritises the health of the nation and not just the treatment of the sick; and that we make the operational decision in health and care to move towards prevention.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Neuberger Portrait Baroness Neuberger (CB)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as chair of University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, chair of Whittington Health NHS Trust and a member of the North Central London Integrated Care Board, as well as other interests stated on the register. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, a wonderful fellow non-executive director at Whittington Health, for securing this debate. I too am very grateful to the Library, which has been hugely helpful, and I am enormously grateful to all other speakers, because most have said most of what I was going to say.

I have a very specific point. At UCLH, we a run a well-known and much-admired long Covid service, which is led by the remarkable Melissa Heightman, who is also a national specialty adviser for NHS England and the co-chief investigator for the STIMULATE-ICP study, the largest long Covid trial to date. We know that the service is desperately needed; we have heard that all around the House. Those who run this particular service are working night and day; it does not have the resources to do what is needed, to the extent that those who run it are begging for bits of resource from elsewhere, mostly for people. So short is the service of staff that they recently asked UCLH Charity to fund an extra consultant for two years, which it has agreed to. I am well aware, as we all are, that today is the day of the Autumn Statement and that times are tough, but it is really serious when an NHS trust with a £1 billion turnover has to ask its charity to support an on-the-ground service led by the national lead, even for a limited period of time—particularly for a service designed to help other NHS staff across London.

Worse still, as other noble Lords have said, some 10% to 14% of reported cases are NHS staff. Although we all know that, it is not generally known among the population—but it is not really surprising, given the higher exposure to the virus that they all had. What a difference getting them well and back to work would make to the cash-strapped NHS and to the challenge over staff numbers. We have real trouble in recruiting and, as others have said, we have people leaving the service.

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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Can I personally endorse what the noble Baroness just said, in particular her testimony on Melissa Heightman and the team at UCLH? I had extensive dealings with them as a Minister, and their work is absolutely first class. I am heartbroken to hear that they are having to reach to charity for financial support.

Baroness Neuberger Portrait Baroness Neuberger (CB)
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I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, and I shall make sure that Melissa knows about that.

Meanwhile, we have all the figures that everybody has cited, and the ONS has reported that long Covid has adversely affected the day-to-day activities of 1.6 million people—that is absolutely huge, and other noble Lords have mentioned that fact. The NHS has tried to help with that ongoing issue but, unfortunately, not enough. I want to go through that, because I think that it is relevant.

In October 2020, NHS England announced a five-point plan to support long Covid patients; it commissioned NICE to develop new guidance and established designated long Covid clinics to provide

“joined up care for physical and mental health”.

It also created the NHS long Covid task force to guide the NHS’s national approach on long Covid, and it funded NIHR research on long Covid better to understand the condition. In July 2021, NHS England published its long Covid plan for 2021-22, which included investing £70 million to expand long Covid services and £30 million in the rollout of an enhanced service for general practice, to support patients in primary care. But when NHS England published its updated plan in July this year, the previously enhanced service funding was not continued, so primary care no longer receives any ring-fenced funding for this condition—yet, as we know, it affects nearly 2 million people.

The problem is both insufficient resources to do all the work that is needed and insufficient forward planning to enable those services that do exist to build up capacity, engage in research, recruit, train, educate, and care for patients, including, importantly, the large number of NHS staff who appear to have been affected. We have a major health problem here that is likely to run for many years. Treatment is uneven across the country and research, which will need a lot of funding, is in its early days. This is an additional burden on an already very stretched NHS, both with patients with long Covid and with the large numbers of staff who have it.

What we really need is a properly NHSE-commissioned service to be put in place now, with secure funding for the next several years, even in these cash-strapped times. It feels like a hand-to-mouth, temporarily funded arrangement, so it is really hard to build a resilient service for the longer term. Can the Minister assure this House that such long-term commissioning will now be put in place, given the recent evidence of the numbers of people away from work with long Covid, the huge proportion of NHS staff affected, making other NHS backlog issues worse, the general impact on the UK economy, which others have mentioned, and of course the sheer suffering that long Covid is causing?

Primary and Community Care: Improving Patient Outcomes

Lord Bethell Excerpts
Thursday 8th September 2022

(1 year, 7 months ago)

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Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Patel, for bringing about this important debate. As ever, he has a canny nose for the timing of these things and he is absolutely spot on. I know from my time in office that the pressures on primary and community care are intense and I agree that we need an urgent rethink. That is why I will put my name to any forthcoming proposal from the noble Lord to the Liaison Committee for a Select Committee on primary and community care.

The NHS has experienced long waits in hospital care before, which are extremely distressing, but it has never faced such a grave challenge in general practice—and as we know, general practice is the bedrock of the NHS. This is the right moment for noble Lords to distil complex recommendations for primary and community care into succinct, wise counsel for the Government to consider. I will share a few thoughts on how that might work. First, primary and community care is the first point of contact with the care system for the public. When we consider the remit of this Select Committee, we must remember that for many people this is not a GP. It is likely a website, an app, a school nurse, a community hospital or a pharmacist.

Secondly, there is definitely a workforce crisis—briefings from the Royal College of GPs, the Royal College of Nurses, the King’s Fund and others make that very clear, and I am grateful for their persuasive statistics—but the crisis in primary and community care is not just a workforce crisis that can be answered through solving recruitment, retention, workload and the GP contract, although those are extremely important challenges. Anyone who listened to the Minister’s answer yesterday to the OPQ about GP training will be clear that there is no massive new wave of GPs set to save the day. As the noble Lord rightly pointed out, only one in four GPs are currently working full-time, and training numbers are going sideways, so we should assume that there will be fewer GPs rather than relying on imaginary regiments of doctors riding to the rescue. Rather than deluding ourselves, we should make our plans accordingly.

Thirdly, we should not over-romanticise relational-based care when the role of the GP is evolving as quickly as that of the bank manager or the priest, and when many patients never ever visit the practice. We got through much of the pandemic with most practices shut, after all. People have extraordinarily diverse needs, from the long-term sick who certainly need regular clinical, face-to-face care to those at the other end of the scale, the occasionally sick or injured who might need a more transactional relationship. We must avoid lazy generalities, and we need a modern service that is flexible enough to meet different needs. That is why I would like any Select Committee studying primary and social care to look at four issues in particular.

The first is the importance of prevention. Too much traditional thinking around primary and community care assumes that patients turn up with symptoms and are guided by the GP on to some care pathway. These days, though, by the time patients have symptoms, it is often too late for the best treatment. This system-wide focus on late-stage acute medicine is costing the country a fortune in hard expenses and opportunity costs: expensive procedures, long recovery times, falling longevity, falling workforce productivity, and hefty social care and welfare bills. It is a huge price to pay. Primary and social care should play a much more proactive role in achieving “domain one” of the NHS outcomes frame- work, which is preventing people dying prematurely.

Secondly, technologies to “transform” healthcare are at our fingertips. I saw the power of digital transformation in primary care from my experience during the pandemic, with virtual wards, testing, the vaccine rollout, surveillance through the REACT survey, the prompt delivery of antivirals, and so on. We should study how primary and community care put digital first and become the foundational layer for scaling digital healthcare through the NHS. This approach is outlined in the persuasive policy paper from Policy Exchange that the noble Lord, Lord Patel, mentioned, At Your Service, by Dr Sean Phillips, Robert Ede, and Dr David Landau. They rightly argue that there is much to do to enhance the existing infrastructure and clarify the legal regulation of data. That is why I am interested in their recommendation for a digital health and care Bill, and in a “smart” first contact navigation programme—an “NHS Gateway”—that can deliver a more personalised “front door” to the NHS. We also need to address the use and sharing of data in primary care for management, clinical and research uses, with suitable resources allocated for this absolutely invaluable work.

Thirdly, I support the recommendation by Dr Rebecca Rosen at the Nuffield Trust for embedding more non-medical clinicians—such as pharmacists and dieticians—into primary care, an approach that worked well for us in the pandemic. There are lots of great examples already in primary care of working differently, from community health worker models in Westminster to the Healthier Fleetwood approach. The question that arises from these experiments is: how do we make innovation in primary care the norm rather than the exception?

Lastly, I will say a word about diagnostics. The pandemic demonstrated the value of consumer diagnostics, attached to digital reporting and used at home or on the high street. These tools engage people with their own healthcare, improve personal responsibility and relieve the pressure on overburdened healthcare systems. It makes no financial or clinical sense that people book a hospital or GP appointment for often extremely simple procedures such as swabs, serology, and faecal and blood pressure tests. During the pandemic, the Lighthouse Lab processed 150 million PCR non-NHS test samples, lateral flow tests were shipped at up to 4 million a day at their peak, and over 2 million blood samples were taken at home by finger prick and posted to labs to maintain the ONS infection study. I give a loud cheer to our new diagnostic hubs, but I fear that on diagnostics we are going back to the old-fashioned, cottage-industry-based pathology mindset rather than embracing the opportunity presented by the consumer diagnostic revolution.

Let us not fight the last war or try to recreate Dr Finlay. This Select Committee must examine the opportunities presented by this crisis for moving away from cumbersome paternalistic models towards a data and diagnostic-empowered citizen patient. That is what a Beveridge 2.0 could look like. That is the way to grow the economy and protect our people.

NHS: Pre-pandemic Facility Levels

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Tuesday 29th March 2022

(2 years ago)

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Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My noble friend is entirely right that the technology offers benefits, but the health infrastructure plan, promised some time ago, has not yet been published. That will outline the framework for investment in the technology he mentions. When will the update be published?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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My noble friend will be aware from when he was a Minister that there were other priorities in tackling Covid, trying to get a vaccine and procuring much-needed equipment. This was therefore all delayed, but we are now working with stakeholders to ensure that the updated capital strategy sets a clear direction for the system, taking into account significant events since the first publication. The multiyear settlement confirmed for 2021 allows us to take the next step forward. We expect the paper to be published at some time in 2022.

Health and Care Bill

Lord Bethell Excerpts
The evidence suggests that official statistics appear to significantly underestimate the complications and risks. The Minister will have seen that 600 medical practitioners have signed a letter highlighting concerns and calling for the cessation of the temporary measure. This is worthy of proper scrutiny and consideration. It involves the safety of women, but it also involves the taking of a new life. Science teaches us that life begins at conception. Surely, we should give this proper and due consideration before passing this into law.
Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I join him and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham in paying tribute to my noble friend Lady Sugg for her work on women’s issues—work that I support in every way I possibly can. I think that this amendment is a useful amendment to this Bill. My noble friend Lady Sugg is right that the world is changing: science raced ahead during the pandemic, and many things that had not been tried before were tried. Clinical tools have become more sophisticated, practices are undoubtedly evolving and there are definitely lessons from the pandemic that are worth our consideration.

That is why I very much welcome an opportunity to stand back and reflect on what has changed since 1967, which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to, when the current settlement on abortion was agreed. That was an incredibly important moment, when those with different views engaged with public opinion, clinical judgment, ethical analysis and spiritual leaders. I accept that that settlement made in 1967 will not last for ever. In fact, I agree with my noble friend Lady Sugg that the arrangements that have been in place for many years definitely need a second look. If we agree that the moment is right, I emphasise that any reconsideration of these issues should be done in a thoughtful, considered fashion and that we should engage the large number of people who have strong feelings, as well as expert opinion.

We need to do this because these issues are extremely complex and the evidence is conflicted, and they engage so many different strands of our emotional, spiritual and intellectual life. If this this debate this evening is a starting gun for that process, I would recognise its significance and ask the Minister to reflect on the moment in his comments.

However, if this amendment is a realistic attempt to bring about a significant long-term change to the clinical pathways of our health system, I would be extremely alarmed. Regarding the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on procedure, I have serious concerns. There is no value in blowing up the long-term arrangements that were agreed in 1967 in a late-night Report debate on an amendment introduced at the last minute to a Bill that is about the integration of our healthcare system. It would be a travesty if the easements that were brought in to cope with a global pandemic were used as a pretext for a long-term rewriting of our abortion laws. We were promised that that would not be the case, and it would be regrettable if this Government went back on those reassurances.

I draw to the attention of noble Lords the report by Gynuity Health Projects, published in March 2021, on its study of the efficacy of telemedicine abortion. It found that 5% of participants using the medical abortion treatment at home needed surgical intervention to complete the procedure. These are worrying numbers and are worthy of further investigation before the current situation passes into legislation.

My hope is that this amendment is regarded for what it should be: a testing amendment to stimulate debate and not a serious effort to overturn arrangements that need to be reformed, not overturned. That is why I call on the Minister to explain why this amendment should not stand, and on my noble friend Lady Sugg to confirm that she will not be moving her amendment.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
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My Lords, I find myself conflicted over this amendment. I am probably the only person in this Chamber who has consulted women over abortions, signed forms for abortions and performed abortions and I have been with women during late abortions for foetal abnormality. It is a complex area. I have also had women say to me, in the privacy of the consulting room, just before they go, “I have never told anybody else this before”—they have then told me about the serious abuse that they have suffered.

My worry with the first part of the amendment, on remote consultation, is that you do not know who is on the other side of camera or who is standing in the room with the woman. You do not know whether the man is using fertility and sex as a form of abuse and is standing there threatening the woman to proceed in one way or another. We know that men refusing to use condoms is a common form of coercive control of women.

The abortifacient tablets, to which my noble friend Baroness Watkins referred, are a separate step. It is inhumane to expect women to take those and then travel on a bus or even go in a taxi. Knowing what has happened before, I cannot help feeling that there is another step. Yes, let the women have their tablets and take them in the privacy of their own home. It is not pleasant to undergo an abortion—nobody should think that it is—but those women also need support and contraceptive advice as part of the package. I am concerned that I do not see that in this amendment and I have been concerned that during the pandemic the ability of women to access contraception may have become more difficult.

This is a complex issue. It is about a pathway with many steps in it. I wonder whether we should return to it at Third Reading, rather than trying to take a yes or no decision tonight on something that has some merits but also some problems. We are not adequately going into them by having a short debate now.

Covid-19: Antiviral Pills

Lord Bethell Excerpts
Monday 31st January 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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One of the interesting things about having this role is the number of different stakeholders I speak to and all the wonderful research into vaccines and antivirals for different conditions. I am not aware of any current research into the condition that the noble Baroness refers to. However, just because I am not aware, does not mean it is not happening. I will find out and write to the noble Baroness.

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords—

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Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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I am afraid I do not know the answer to that, but I will write to both my noble friends.

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, antivirals have shown their efficacy against HIV, hepatitis C, influenza, and now, thanks to the Eddie Gray Antivirals Taskforce, against Covid—but they work only if they attack the disease at the very earliest stage, often before symptoms even manifest themselves. We are going to see a great investment in antivirals, so what steps is the NHS taking to adapt to this new form of medicine distribution and to get antivirals into the hands of patients at the earliest possible stage? Five days simply is not early enough.

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for all the work that he put in during his time as the relevant Minister in pushing the Antiviral Taskforce and ensuring the rollout of these antivirals. Since December, patients who are eligible and receive a positive PCR result are referred for treatment into a Covid medicines delivery unit. In addition, the UK Health Security Agency has sent PCR tests to around 1.3 million patients who are eligible for antivirals—bearing in mind what the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said, which I need to look into. We are also working with the devolved Administrations to look at whether the NHS could deploy antivirals to a wider group of patients, with an emphasis on rapid identification and treatment, and assuming that we see positive results from the Panoramic trial.

Health and Care Bill

Lord Bethell Excerpts
It begs the question, therefore, why my noble friend Lord Forsyth would want to table such an amendment. Is it possible he believes that the drafting of a Bill by government would confer legitimacy on an otherwise non-government policy? If so, this amendment should be treated with great care. The value and worth of our terminally ill, mentally competent adults are too great to be dealt with in such a way. Are we really arguing that because end-of-life palliative care is so patchy, we need to introduce euthanasia? Surely we need a universal service of palliative care rather than this amendment.
Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, I would like to speak in support of Amendment 297 from my noble friend Lord Forsyth and specifically address the issue of timing that the amendment refers to:

“The Secretary of State must, within the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, lay before Parliament a draft Bill,”


and so on. I feel competent to address this point because I was asked myself, when I was Minister, whether the Government should support a debate with a Government-supported Bill on this issue. There were five conclusions that I reached during my thoughts on the matter.

The first was that a Private Member’s Bill, however worthy, was just not going to get across the Table. It was like a soggy piece of spaghetti—very difficult to push across. This issue is very complex, and a large amount of consultation is needed, quite rightly on such a delicate issue, that only a Government can engage in. PMBs may be all right for cosmetic fillers, but not for assisted dying.

Secondly, on soundings with the professions, there was clearly a massive change in the sentiments of the medical professions, and the appetite and desire for reform was profound, among both the membership and the leadership. That was something we had to take account of.

Thirdly, reform in like-minded countries such as Canada, New Zealand and even Ireland had changed the international context for this issue. We cannot duck the fact that Britain is actually behind the curve on this matter.

Fourthly, public opinion has moved a long way on this. The noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, referred to this.

Lastly, there was a large amount of interest, privately, among parliamentary colleagues in engaging on this subject, particularly among those who were not necessarily highly focused on the issue.

My conclusion was that the time was right to have this debate. My message to the Minister is that it is right that the inconsistencies and delicacies of this issue are tackled by the Government and soon. In the phrase of TS Eliot in “The Waste Land”:

“HURRY UP PLEASE ITS TIME”.

Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown Portrait Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown (DUP)
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My Lords, I rise to make just a short contribution. I listened carefully to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, for whom I have great personal respect. I watched him in another place and saw his great ability in debate, and I have no doubt whatever that he has much to contribute to the debates here in this House and will do so in the future. However, I have to say that I profoundly disagree with him in this case.

The noble Lord said that he had changed his mind on assisted suicide. He mentioned personal circumstances within the family and then he said that he thought about his own personal circumstances if he were in that position. I do not believe that that is the best way to bring legislation forward, based on your own personal circumstances; you are therefore bringing legislation in for the whole country to meet your own personal circumstances. I have empathy with him and understand the personal circumstances he has had to face.

I say to the noble Lord that I come from a different perspective. I have personal experience of the awful pain of the suicide of a loved one. I know what it is for a family member to come to their wits’ end because of their personal circumstances, where cancer had ravaged the whole family circle, even taking a little child of four, and they could not face life any more. Were they terminally ill? I tell your Lordships, they had died within because of their circumstances. Were they mentally competent to make a decision? They made a decision, and I am sad to say that the rest of the family circle has had to live with that awful pain within their hearts.

This is not an easy situation. I understand that we say that we are not talking about the particulars of a Bill, but this amendment says:

“The Secretary of State must, within the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, lay before Parliament a draft Bill to permit terminally ill, mentally competent adults legally to end their own lives with medical assistance.”


That is certainly assisted suicide. I heard other noble Lords saying that this was simply asking for parliamentary time to have a debate. We had a long debate in this House on the Bill in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, which is in fact progressing.

I notice that the noble Lord is shaking his head. I have to ask this question. Numerous Private Members’ Bills are going through this House and are progressing, perhaps at a slow speed. Why is this one different from the others? Do we ask the Government simply to pick this one out and forget about all the rest, or are we saying that they should do it in a timely fashion? Let the Government give this special time to those that are already in that process, and when it comes to the Bill in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, time can be given for that to progress and to provide a Bill.

Over these past two years this whole nation has been fighting to save life, not take it. We have spent billions of pounds in trying to do that and I pay tribute to the health service for all its efforts. An assisted suicide law, however well intended, would alter society’s attitude towards the elderly, the seriously ill and the disabled, sending a message that assisted suicide is an option that they ought to consider. Society should not allow a double standard in allowing some people an assisted suicide while we do all we can to prevent young people and other vulnerable groups committing suicide—

Health and Care Bill

Lord Bethell Excerpts
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
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My Lords, from the perspective of a clinician, I support this amendment very strongly. If it is not adopted, I can see it being imperative, in any doctor’s consultation, to warn the patient that their data could be accessible and to be very careful about what is recorded in the clinical record. Very often, patients come to see a doctor, possibly at a very early stage of slightly disordered thinking or because they have undertaken a potentially high-risk activity, often in the sexual domain, and are worried that they may have contracted some condition or other. If you inhibit that ability to see a doctor early, you will further drive people into whatever condition is beginning to emerge, so it will not be known about until later. That applies particularly in mental health, where early intervention might prevent a condition from escalating.

I can see that, without an amendment such as the one proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, every clinical consultation will have to be conducted with extreme caution, because of potential access to data.

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, I an enormously grateful for this debate, because this clause and related clauses are critical both to achieving the digital transformation aims of the NHS, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and to getting the healthcare system to work better together.

I am also grateful for the humanity and testimony of several noble Lords, exemplified by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, who spoke movingly about the practicalities of patients going to see their doctors. I know from my own life and from my family how important it is to protect those relationships.

That is why I would like to hear a little from the Minister about what protections there are, because health data is and should be treated as a special category of data. What additional protections are there in the use of health data, including in the common law duty of confidentiality, the role of the National Data Guardian, the way the Caldicott principles will be used and the national data opt-out? What reassurances do we have that those special considerations will apply to this clause and its related components?

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lord Hunt and those speakers who expressed their concern about the open-endedness of what is in the Bill at the moment and the lack of protection for patient data. I look forward to the Minister’s reply on this.

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Lord Warner Portrait Lord Warner (CB)
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My Lords, briefly, I support these amendments, partly from my own experience as a director of social services and Children’s Commissioner, but also because of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, raised.

I have three key points from history. As a director of social services in the 1980s and 1990s, I offloaded my local authority family centres to the voluntary sector because a survey of parents suggested that they would not come to a service run by the organisation that was likely to take away their children. That was a perfectly rational position and we should listen to what people say about that.

Fast forward to 1999 and parenting orders under the Crime and Disorder Act. We find that compulsion brought parents to the party but, when they actually attended, they found—not so much men but women—that they were being treated and given skills that enabled them to manage children, largely teenage children, much better than they had been. It was a great shame that we used the criminal justice system to bring people to a parenting tuition experience that they should have been given many years before.

This is a final point from history. Michael Gove made me—this was madness on my part, as well as his—children’s commissioner for the failing Birmingham City Council children’s services. Ofsted report after Ofsted report had been telling them of their deficiencies. We found that the group they could not handle, for which they had no effective responses, was teenagers. If we are to make any progress in helping people to help the family unit, we need to address the support given to parents during the teenage years, because they are really struggling, particularly mums.

Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, I will briefly say that I am extremely optimistic about family hubs. They answer the challenge to solve the complexity around integration incredibly well. My noble friend Lord Farmer made the point that one cannot think of a better example of what integration looks like than family hubs. The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, talked clearly and persuasively about the journey they have been on.

My noble friend has made the case for these amendments. Other noble Lords have made the case for updating the legislative framework. I ask the Minister to look carefully at what can be done to bring these laws up to date so that family hubs can thrive, as I believe they will.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Farmer, for introducing this important debate and to other noble Lords who have supported the amendments before us and spoken about how we can improve the support that families will receive through this Bill. As the Family Hubs Network rightly observes,

“prevention is simply listed in the Bill as one of several commissioning requirements of ICBs with no broad mention of children’s health”.

This group of amendments gives us the opportunity to sharpen this.

As we have heard, the issues that families face, in whatever form or shape, do not exist in isolation. In addition to the impact of financial, housing, social and other pressures, the physical and mental health of a child or young person affects the physical and mental health of not just their parents, but their wider family, and vice versa. It makes common sense to facilitate a healthcare system that is designed and resourced to actively take a holistic approach to the many issues that face children and those who care for them.

I cannot help but feel that the points raised today are not new. We have the experience of Sure Start to show us how effective properly integrated family services can be. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies confirmed:

“By bringing together a wide range of early years services for children under 5, Sure Start centres dramatically improved children’s health even through their teenage years.”


Early investment is crucial.

I hope the Minister will be keen to embed change in this Bill to replicate the success that we saw through Sure Start. The first step towards doing this is to make sure that integrated care partnerships are properly required to consider how family help services can be thoroughly integrated into our health and care system, so that family members—no matter what form those families take—are seen as both individuals and groups who have an effect on each other.