The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care (Lord Kamall) (Con)
I thank noble Lords for their contributions and for sharing their knowledge and expertise—and, in the case of hospital food, not sharing their tales of inadequate and unhealthy food. I will try to answer as many of the questions as possible but, given the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Patel, of being advised by a nurse Whip, I am keen to make sure that I do not suffer those same warnings, as it were.
On rare diseases, specifying requirements in the way proposed by the amendment would restrict the ability of the CQC to collaboratively develop its assessments of integrated care systems. However, the Government are committed to improving the lives of people living with rare diseases. The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, rightly talked about the UK Rare Diseases Framework that we published in January 2021, which set out our key priorities for tackling rare diseases. England’s action plan will be published at the end of next month.
I have had conversations with some in the life sciences industry who are keen on the fact that we are focusing on rare diseases and extremely rare diseases, and see that as a positive. One of the things that we are trying to do across government is to make sure that we are seen as a hub for expertise in rare diseases and especially rare diseases. One of my predecessors as a Minister suffered from a rare disease. The momentum is still there in the department to make sure that we tackle the issue.
Also, the CQC, through its ICS assessment methodology, will seek to understand how system leaders are monitoring and meeting the needs of the local population, including those with rare diseases. We expect the CQC, in collaboration with system partners, to use its experience as the independent regulator of health and adult social care in England to develop an approach to those reviews. I know that noble Lords may be tired of hearing this but it is important that the legislation allows the CQC flexibility to do so.
On Amendment 240, while the Government have sympathy with the need to raise awareness, we do not consider it appropriate to put such a requirement into primary legislation. I hope I have reassured the noble Lord about our programmes and our push to raise the profile of rare diseases and extremely rare diseases. We prefer that all healthcare professional regulators require professionals to have the necessary skills and knowledge to practise safely, including awareness of rare conditions. It is the responsibility of the regulators to determine what specific role they should play in raising awareness of rare and less common conditions.
On—and I apologise if I mispronounce this—liothyronine and the power of direction, the NICE guideline on the assessment and management of thyroid disease, as the noble Lord acknowledged, does not recommend liothyronine for primary hypothyroidism. NICE states that there is not yet enough evidence that it offers benefits over levothyroxine monotherapy, and its long-term adverse effects are uncertain. If new evidence was to emerge, I am sure NICE would consider it.
In addition, we must be careful not to override NICE guidelines. But, given the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and my noble friend Lord Borwick, I would like a further conversation, if that is okay, to see what can be done in this area, as well as where it is appropriate for me to act and what conversations would be appropriate, given the noble Lord’s experience as a Health Minister.
On Amendment 178, we are committed to further strengthening the innovation metrics and to improving our understanding of how innovative medicines and these products are used in the NHS. Noble Lords will be aware that following the publication of the final report of the Accelerated Access Review, the Government established the Accelerated Access Collaborative—AAC—last year. In fact, last year alone we helped over 300,000 patients access proven innovations, resulting in 17,000 fewer hospital admissions and 140,000 fewer days spent in hospital.
As noble Lords are aware, we published our ambitious Life Sciences Vision, which laid out our priorities. We want to make sure that the NHS is seen as a partner in innovation and that research is embedded into everything the NHS does. I know that this has been raised in relation to other amendments. We are currently developing implementation plans for delivering on these commitments.
As noble Lords acknowledged, NICE is in the final stages of the review of its methods and processes, and is proposing a number of changes that will introduce real benefits to patients, including rare disease patients. The Government are also committed to developing an innovative medicines fund, which my noble friend referred to, and a consultation on detailed proposals for the fund closes on 11 February.
Finally, our rare disease framework outlines the key priorities for rare diseases in the UK over the next five years. One priority area is to improve access to specialist care, treatments and drugs.
On hospital food, although we recognise the expertise and declarations of the noble Lords who spoke, we believe that this amendment is unnecessary because the issues are already covered, either as part of the ongoing work to implement recommendations from the hospital food review or in the NHS food standards document, to be published in spring 2022.
The Government are supporting NHS England to implement the recommendations from the independent review. These recommendations cover a broad range of issues, including nutrition, hydration, healthier eating and sustainable procurement. It is important for me to learn more about this as a Minister, given what the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, said about many people not receiving the recognition they deserve. It would be appropriate, perhaps, for us to meet and follow this up.
In addition, the Government already have sufficient legal powers and obligations to enable them to consult on proposed food standards, and we have engaged with NHS trusts, the food standards and strategy group, and the NHS food review expert group through the NHS food review. We will continue to do all this.
On Amendment 264, the regulations already allow trusts to seek alternative members to contribute to the process. They can be from colleges such as the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow and the Royal College of Emergency Medicine. However, the Government agree that the changes proposed by noble Lords in Amendment 264 would potentially be advantageous —to put it that way—and we have undertaken to review the situation with officials.
The National Health Service Act 2006 stipulates that consultation with affected parties must be undertaken before any changes are made. Therefore, before we jump to it and agree, we are required to consult the relevant parties. It does seem a clear-cut case, but we are still under a duty to consult.