Lord Kamall (Con)
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken on these amendments in this debate and in Committee, but I am also grateful for the discussions that we have had between the various stages and the conversations that noble Lords have continued to have with my officials—indeed, right up to the dinner break this evening. I shall speak to Amendments 34, 35 and 55 in my name, which I hope will go far in addressing many of the concerns raised in the debate.
We have heard the calls for greater clarity about what will be expected of ICBs in their forward planning. We also understand the importance of ICBs being transparent in discharging their functions to allow for public scrutiny and accountability. We have therefore brought forward these amendments to further clarify what ICBs must include in their forward plans and annual reports. These amendments provide that the forward plan must describe what services the ICB proposes to make arrangements for in the exercise of its functions. It must also explain how the ICB proposes to discharge each of its duties under new Sections 14Z34 to 14Z44. These duties include improving the quality of services, reducing inequalities, promoting the involvement of patients and carers in decisions about treatment and promoting the integration of health and social care services.
Amendment 55 requires an ICB’s annual report to explain how it has discharged each of its duties under new Sections 14Z34 to 14Z44. This would additionally include new Section 14Z47A, which is the new duty we discussed earlier requiring the ICB to keep under review the skills, knowledge and experience that it needs to discharge its functions and, when there are gaps, to consider what steps it can take to address or mitigate them. I hope that noble Lords will agree that these amendments represent a significant step forward in making sure ICBs are held accountable by ensuring that they are transparent in how they intend to discharge their numerous duties and functions.
I turn to the amendments proposed by noble Lords, and I shall address each of them as briefly as I can. On Amendment 19, I assure my noble friend Lord Farmer that the Bill already includes the power for ICBs to commission services or facilities for the prevention of illness under new Section 3A in Clause 16. The provisions in Clause 16 also require ICBs to act consistently with the Secretary of State’s duty for the promotion of a comprehensive health service, including in the prevention of illness. Further, new Section 14Z34 places a duty on ICBs to improve the quality of services including preventive services, and new Sections 14Z36 and 14Z38 place duties on ICBs to ensure that patients and carers are fully involved in these decisions, including about prevention.
I now turn briefly to Amendment 62, spoken to so ably by my noble friend Lord McColl and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins. I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, who in my brief time in this House thus far has really educated me about dementia and the fact that, as we are living longer physically, this will become more of an issue.
The department is currently developing a new national dementia strategy for England, which will be published later this year. This will include objectives focused on restoring the dementia diagnosis rates and improving the diagnostic experience for people living with dementia, as well as increasing the number and diversity of people participating in dementia research. I take on board the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about getting the many volunteers for clinical trials at the right time.
There is already work under way to help restore dementia diagnosis rates back to the target of 66.7% following the pandemic, supported by an additional £17 million to address dementia waiting lists and increase the number of diagnoses. Increasing participation in all types of research is a top priority and is in fact part of my portfolio. The UK has invested in a range of digital platforms, including Join Dementia Research, and we are now working to increase the scale of and interoperability between systems, improve diverse recruitment and reduce the burden and costs of clinical research delivery.
On Amendments 22 and 24, I reassure noble Lords that the Bill already contains requirements on NHS commissioning bodies to tackle health inequalities. Commissioners are also required to promote the right of patients to make choices with respect to services or treatment. This includes allowing patients to choose to be treated outside their ICB area. To support this, we expect ICBs to actively co-operate with each other. Furthermore, we have amended the duty on ICBs to have regard to the need to reduce inequalities between patients, proposing by government amendment to extend this to “persons”, in respect of accessing services. This means we are capturing everyone, not just people accessing services. This duty would encompass the need to reduce inequalities with respect to geography as well.
I now turn to Amendment 30. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay. First, I should thank her for the daffodil I am wearing to celebrate St David’s Day. She assures me that it is not a listening device to eavesdrop on my conversations with officials. If she had eavesdropped, she probably would have been embarrassed by the amount of praise heaped on her. We acknowledge her desire to see strong provision of community rehabilitation and it is important that this is pushed up the agenda.
Under the existing Bill provisions, every ICB will be required to provide and improve rehabilitation services as part of its duty to provide a comprehensive health service. As an added layer of scrutiny, ICBs must publish an annual review detailing how they have discharged this function. Also, NHS England is currently working on a national intermediate care framework, digital and virtual pathways and models of care, improved data recording and reports, and interventions using a wide range of community assets and levers.
I now turn to Amendments 33 and 37 to 54. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, for his engagement on this issue—indeed, including right up to the dinner break this evening. We would like to put on record our gratitude to the noble Lord and the Royal College of General Practitioners for pushing us on this and reminding us that, as we move to ICBs, we should make sure that primary care is not the poor relation. In moving to ICBs from CCGs, where GPs and primary medical services have played a huge role, we have to ensure that these are not dominated by a few large trusts.
We understand and continue to recognise the importance of primary care. Indeed, primary care is taking on more of the functions of what would traditionally be considered secondary care, especially with some of the primary care services and community centres appearing in our local communities. Only this week, we have seen stories and press reports of pharmacists calling for more of the functions of GPs to be delegated to them. They have helpfully suggested that they could save the NHS money and also provide better primary care services by taking on some of those functions. There is clearly a demand out there and that has to be encouraged.
Before I turn to this, I note that we hold primary care in equal esteem to any other sector—acute, community or mental health. Right from the outset, we have said that primary care must not be lost and must be at the heart of the ICB. As the Integrated Care Systems: Design Framework said:
“Through a combination of their membership, and the ways in which members engage partners, the board and its committees should ensure they take into account the perspectives and expertise of all relevant partners”,
including primary care.
I know the noble Lord is especially concerned about why primary care is not explicitly referenced in new Clause 14Z50(1). I hope I can offer him some explanation. First, we are conscious that there are 43,000 primary care providers, and it is impractical to require each to be a partner in developing the ICB forward plan. Secondly, new Clause 14Z50 ties NHS providers to the plan, and a failure to play their part could trigger NHS England’s intervention. It will also guide the financial requirements imposed under Clause 24. In contrast, primary care providers, as private contractors, are bound to the plan in a different way, primarily through contracts. Thirdly, new Clauses 14Z50 and 14Z54, on the joint capital resource plan, are intimately connected and primary care capital is provided through other routes.
However, ensuring that the primary care voice is sufficiently involved in joint forward planning in integrated care boards is our common ambition. The law requires the involvement of a primary care representative drawn from primary medical services on ICBs, just as it does for acute providers. ICBs will have to consider how they can best access skills and knowledge across primary care.
In addition, there is a duty in new Clause 14Z52 to consult
“any other persons they consider it appropriate to consult”
about forward plans. We expect that, in publishing its plan, an ICB should set out how it has met this duty and consulted primary care and other partners. I am able to inform the House that NHS England has confirmed that its guidance will be explicit in its expectation that primary care will be a crucial partner in that process. We are happy to engage with the noble Lord further as that guidance develops to ensure that we stick to that commitment to make sure that primary care is at the heart of this.
More broadly, ICBs have the discretion to appoint additional members to the ICB or exercise functions through committees. Commissioning at a local level requires the expertise of primary care, and we expect it to play a significant role as many decisions will be taken at that level under the principle of subsidiarity. Further guidance will be published on the development of place- level arrangements, including the role of primary care.
I also note the Fuller review. NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard has announced that Dr Claire Fuller, senior responsible officer of the Surrey Heartlands Integrated Care System, will lead a review on how primary care networks can be supported in integrated systems. NHS England has announced that the review will set out how ICSs and primary care networks should go about improving out-of-hospital care. The findings of the review will then be applied to ICBs, subject to the passage of this Bill. We hope this work will help all ICBs to make progress on developing general practice in this area.
I hope I have been able to assure noble Lords that we hold primary care in great esteem, and have given the noble Lord some reassurance that primary care will be involved in every level of the ICB, its functions and planning.
I now turn to Amendment 177 from my noble friend Lady Hodgson. I thank her for continuing to remind us of its importance and speaking movingly about her own experience. I remind noble Lords that all practices are already required to assign all their registered patients—including those aged 65 and over—a named, accountable GP. The GP must lead in ensuring that any GP services that they are contracted to provide, and that are necessary to meet the patient’s needs, are co-ordinated and delivered to that patient. Practices must take reasonable steps to accommodate the requests of patients to be assigned a particular GP and to see them for an appointment.
However, it is vital that practices retain clinical discretion to provide appointments, as is necessary and appropriate to meet the reasonable needs of patients—something that this amendment would remove. Through primary care networks and initiatives such as enhanced health in care homes and anticipatory care, we are supporting GP practices to improve continuity of care on the ground, including for older patients. We are committed to growing the general practice workforce and increasing access to appointments, in line with our manifesto commitments.