Lord Kamall (Con)
My Lords, I put on record my thanks and gratitude for this excellent and wide-ranging debate. I hope noble Lords will understand that I may not be able to answer every point in the time available—unless they are prepared to stay here all night. I am grateful for the constructive and thoughtful contributions of noble Lords from all sides of the House. When I first entered this House, a noble friend who was a Minister here and in the other place said that, in the other place, you are probably one of the few experts on the Bill you are taking through, but in this place there will be at least one other expert. I disagree: there are many experts who will know far more about this than I do, but I look forward to learning from noble Lords across the House and listening to their expertise.
I echo those who praised the excellent maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stevens. He will be a valuable addition to the House. I caution against describing him as a treasure, because the problem with treasures is that people want to lock them away, put them behind a glass case, or bury them.
The noble Baroness, Lady Merron, asked how the Bill would be different from previous reorganisations. I make it clear that this is not a reorganisation that comes from my office or my right honourable friend the Secretary of State’s office in Victoria Street. Instead, the Bill builds on the evolution up and down the country over the last decade led by the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Birmingham, to deliver joined-up care.
This is the right Bill at the right time, as the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, said. I was extremely struck by the contributions of the noble Lords, Lord Kakkar, Lord Adebowale, Lord Stevens, and my noble friends Lady Harding and Lord Hunt of Wirral, in support of the principles underlined in the Bill. I am grateful for their support. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, said, the Bill is not a cure-all; no Act of Parliament could ever be. However, it can set the framework for people to find solutions that work; that approach has been the guiding light.
I will now address some of the issues raised across the House. As the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, said, integrating services around people is the only sustainable way of delivering high-quality health and care systems and, more importantly, delivering improved outcomes for everyone. This has been a goal of health systems across the world, and it is at the heart of the provisions in this Bill, including putting new integrated care systems on a statutory footing. To meet that challenge, a key principle of the Bill is to ensure that the legislative framework is flexible and responsive to local population needs. It is right that local areas should be able to determine the arrangements that work best for them. Frimley is not Cumbria; we should not try to create a one-size-fits-all single model for both.
To protect this flexibility, I ask noble Lords to consider whether it is appropriate to add additional prescriptions on membership and duties for integrated care boards and integrated care partnerships, although we will, of course, be happy to consider suggestions for additional guidance and support for the system. In that spirit, I hope that I can reassure the noble Baronesses, Lady Tyler, Lady Walmsley, Lady Masham, and other noble Lords who raised this, that we are working with NHS England and the Department for Education on bespoke guidance in relation to children, including the vital issues of safeguarding, special educational needs and disabilities.
I thank my noble friend Lord Farmer for raising the role of family hubs, and for his sustained work in advocating for the family hub model. I assure him that this Government have committed to championing family hubs and we are working to roll them out. I also assure the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, and other noble Lords that we are fully committed to supporting carers, including consulting them in the development of services. I reassure the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Meacher, and my noble friend Lady Hodgson that integrated care boards will be responsible for commissioning palliative care services as part of a comprehensive healthcare service.
This may be a convenient moment to consider the question of parity of esteem, as raised by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton and Lady Watkins, my noble friend Lady Morgan of Cotes, the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, and others. References to health in the Bill will already apply to mental, as well as physical, health. Likewise, I hope that I can reassure many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Desai, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that tackling inequalities is deeply embedded in the Bill. Given the backgrounds of both my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and myself, we believe very strongly in tackling inequalities. At the same time, I remind noble Lords of the establishment of the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, with the focus on disparities and tackling inequalities. It is important that we give our support in tackling disparities right across our nation.
Integrated care partnerships will plan to address local needs, including the wider determinants of health, and the triple aim places new duties on NHS bodies to consider the health and well-being of the people of England when discharging all their functions. I listened carefully to the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Merron and Lady Pinnock, on the principle of subsidiarity—the role of place. We want to empower local leaders to support integrated and person-centred care at place level.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, my noble friend Lord Lansley, the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, and others raised the question of why we are putting forward a two-board approach. This approach recognises the importance of integration, both within the NHS and between the NHS and its wider partners. I reiterate that this was co-designed with both the NHS and the Local Government Association. I hope that I can reassure the noble Lords, Lord Howarth and Lord Crisp, that ICPs—integrated care partnerships—will have flexibility to draw members from a wide range of sources including organisations with a wider interest in local priorities, such as housing providers and education, as well as art and culture organisations.
The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, asked why the Bill provides for CQC assessment of integrated care systems. It is important that members of the public can understand how well their health and care system is collaborating and that their local hospital is providing a safe, high-quality service.
My noble friend Lady Blackwood and other noble Lords raised the importance of research. I assure the House that we share the objective of wanting to see research embedded in the health and care system, not only to improve healthcare outcomes but to contribute to the goal of making the UK a hub for life sciences globally.
To address the contributions from the noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Chakrabarti, I assure the House that we have no intention of opening the door to privatisation. As the King’s Fund has said, there is nothing in the Bill that is likely to drive more NHS funding towards private companies—a sentiment echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale. I also remind noble Lords that successive Labour and Conservative Governments have seen the value of collaboration between the voluntary sector, the private sector, social enterprises —as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr—and the state.
On integrated care boards, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked about transparency. Integrated care boards are covered by the Public Bodies (Admissions to Meetings) Act and will be bound by the principles of openness and proper public engagement.
I listened to my noble friend Lord Bethell with great interest. I agree that data sharing is essential to true integration. I know that many other noble Lords support this but they also, rightly, raised some concerns. The information provisions in this Bill are part of a wider range of commitments set out in the draft data strategy. We will ensure that the system has the ability and competence to share and use data appropriately and effectively to benefit individuals, populations and the health and social care system.
I listened carefully to the many contributions on social care from the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton and Lady Campbell, and many others. Social care reform is a challenge ducked by generations. Successive Governments have commissioned reports on social care only to see them gather dust on bookshelves and never be enacted. This is the first attempt for many years to tackle a long-standing issue. Many noble Lords have spoken about it being ignored for 10, 20, 30 or 40 years. Anyone who has looked at the history of demographics and economic history will know that this challenge was coming a long time ago, yet successive Governments have kicked it down the road. We hope that this Bill, alongside the upcoming integration White Paper and the recently published social care White Paper, will go towards meeting that challenge. The social care White Paper sets out a 10-year reform vision that puts people at the centre of social care. It will ensure greater choice, control and support to lead an independent life with fair and accessible care.
We are backing that vision with investment. The Prime Minister has announced an additional £5.4 billion to begin a comprehensive programme of reform, including an extra £3.6 billion to reform the social care charging system, an extra £300 million of investment in housing, £150 million of additional funding to improve technology and increase digitalisation across social care, and £500 million of investment in the workforce. As technology improves, we hope that the nature of social care will change, enabling many more people to spend longer lives in their own homes with adaptations and better technology. Would it not be great if the United Kingdom were at the forefront of those technological developments?
I recognise the strength of feeling in relation to Clause 140, but I remind the House that it is absolutely essential that noble Lords look at the package of social care reforms as a whole. Our reforms will stop unpredictable and unlimited care costs, significantly increase the means test to help those with the least wealth and help people to plan for the future.
I hope that noble Lords will recognise that, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said in the other place, nobody will be worse off in any circumstances than they are in the current system and many people will be better off. The reforms mean that the Government will now support an extra 90,000 older care users at any given time. Comparisons have been made to previous proposals for reforms to the charging system. I remind noble Lords that many of these were not in fact acted on, partly due to concerns over unaffordable costs. Unlike previous proposals, our reform package is credible, deliverable and affordable.
There has rightly been much discussion of workforce planning for the NHS and adult social care. I have listened carefully to the contributions on this very important subject made by many noble Lords, including my noble friends Lady Harding and Lady Cumberlege, the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Cavendish and Lady Thornton. Ensuring that we have the health and care workforce that this country needs is a priority for this Government, and the most recent figures show that there are record numbers of staff working in the NHS, including record numbers of doctors and nurses.
The Bill builds on this work. Clause 35 will bring greater clarity and accountability to this area. The department has also commissioned Health Education England to work with partners to develop a long-term 15-year strategic framework for the health and regulated social care workforce. For the first time, this will include regulated professionals in adult social care. That work will look at the key drivers of workforce supply and demand over the longer term and set out their impact on the future workforce. We anticipate publication in spring 2022. Supporting all this work is our recent announcement of our intention to formally merge Health Education England with NHS England. Such a merger will help to ensure that workforce is placed at the centre of NHS strategy.
I now turn to some of the wider issues raised during this excellent debate. I beg your Lordships’ indulgence, as time may not permit me to answer every point raised, and I commit to write to noble Lords whose points I do not address. I hope noble Lords will forgive me for the time I may take to write some of those letters.
On the power of direction for the Secretary of State, I am afraid I cannot agree with the characterisation suggested by some noble Lords. Instead, I would echo the former shadow Minister in the other place who said that
“the public think that the politicians they elect are accountable for the decisions taken in the interests of their health”.—[Official Report, Commons, Health and Care Bill Committee, 21/9/21; col. 393.]
We agree. I would also like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, that Ministers have no intention of requiring hospitals to report on the movement of a broom cupboard. I am afraid that is a mischaracterisation, albeit a witty one, of how Ministers intend to use their power.
We anticipate that Ministers will be involved only where decisions become particularly complex or a significant cause of public concern, or if they cannot be resolved at a local level. Local NHS commissioners will continue to be accountable to NHS England and for developing, consulting on and delivering service change proposals. However, we believe that strengthening democratic oversight will make it more likely that the right decisions will be taken. Any decisions will be based on the evidence and consultations that have taken place, and where the Secretary of State chooses to intervene they will, rightly, be accountable to Parliament and the public.
I welcome support for the establishment of the Health Service Safety Investigations Body and agree with the noble Baronesses, Lady Merron and Lady Walmsley, and others that it is essential that the HSSIB is an independent body and a safe space. This is what the Bill delivers. It was always difficult to achieve the right balance between openness and getting people to come forward so that we can make sure that we improve and learn lessons.
As raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, the Bill contains a number of delegated powers. Many of these are not new but simply reflect the replacement of clinical commissioning groups with the new integrated care boards. Far from a power grab by the Secretary of State, many of these powers will be exercised by the NHS.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Jones, and my noble friend Lord Reay raised the question of fluoridation. I gently remind noble Lords that although tooth decay can be prevented or minimised by adherence to a healthy diet, water fluoridation is seen to be the only intervention to improve dental health that does not require sustained behavioural change over many years. It also disproportionately benefits poorer or more disadvantaged groups.
As many noble Lords have commented, prevention is in many ways better than cure. That is why we are so concerned about childhood obesity, a concern shared by noble Lords across this House. It is one of the biggest health problems this nation faces, and I am grateful to many noble Lords for the support that related measures have received today. We want to be quite clear that, as these measures are taken forward by local integrated boards and commissioners, we must rely on evidence, learn lessons and, when something does not work, try something else. We have to use the power of discovery to make sure that we are finally able to put obesity to bed or to reduce it on a significant scale.
I was also grateful for the intervention of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, in relation to reciprocal healthcare agreements. I hope I can assure her that such arrangements will be entered into only when they are in the best interests of the people of the UK and the NHS. The NHS is not, and never will be, for sale to the private sector, whether overseas or domestic.
I thank my noble friend Lady Cumberlege for her remarks and for her tireless work in championing patients, ensuring that the voices of patients and their families were heard in her First Do No Harm report. My noble friend continues to be a voice in the House for patients in general, and for the women and their families who have been so terribly affected by matters covered in her review. She continues to champion their cause and their calls for redress. We are committed to making rapid progress in all areas set out in our response, and we aim to publish an implementation report in the summer of 2022.
Finally, I welcome those, including my noble friend Lady Hodgson, who raised the issue of hymenoplasty. The Government agree that this is a repressive and repulsive procedure. We have convened an independent expert panel to make a recommendation on whether it should be banned. That recommendation will be published before Christmas.
This Bill is the product of extensive engagement with stakeholders across the health and care system, including partners in local government as well as the NHS. It will provide a platform that empowers local leaders across health and care to build back better and to continue to deliver a world-class service, fit for the 21st century and beyond. I urge noble Lords across the House to trust the judgment of our health and care staff as much as we value their commitment and their care. I know that noble Lords will work together to make this Bill better during the coming weeks and I commend the Bill to the House.