Government “listening exercise” on the health bill

Posted on April 6, 2011 by

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We got the details today of how the Government is going to take a look at the health bill over the next couple of months and decide whether to make any changes before it hits report stage in the Commons. There is going to be a “listening exercise” and government is asking for feedback.

Background

In July 2010, the government published a white paper, Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS, which proposed changest to how the NHS works. The Health & Social Care Bill was published on 19 January 2011 and aims to make the legislative changes necessary to put these proposals into action. It makes little explicit mention of research but is reorganising the architecture in ways which will impact research.

The Health & Social Care Bill has just completed committee stage in the Commons, being scrutinised by MPs clause by clause.

At their Spring conference a few weeks back, the Lib Dems voted against some of the proposed reorganisation which, as members of the coalition government who introduced this bill, raised difficulties for Lib Dems voting on the Bill. As a result, a Liberal Democrat group has proposed 23 amendments to the bill.

On Monday, the Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley, announced that there would be a “natural break” in the travel of the bill through the commons to allow the government to “pause, listen and engage” and consider making changes to Bill.

A date has yet to be set for report stage and third reading in the Commons, although following Monday’s announcement it looks like this will be June-time. After this the Bill will move over to the Lords – updated timeline here.

What happened today?

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Andrew Lansley announced a “listening exercise” during a visit to a hospital today.

The plan is for the government to listen to the public and a group of patient representatives, doctors and nurses chaired by Professor Steve Field (former chair of the Royal College of GPs) called the NHS Future Forum, asking for their views on:

  • the role of choice and competition for improving quality;
  • how to ensure public accountability and patient involvement in the new system;
  • how new arrangements for education and training can support the modernisation process; and
  • how advice from across a range of healthcare professions can improve patient care.

More detailed questions to feed back on are going to appear on the Department of Health website here.

Today’s launch is very clear that the bill is still going to happen and the structure of the NHS will be changed, but suggesting that there is some flexibility as to how it is changed. Number 10 has produced a leaflet laying out their position, explaining why they are planning to change the NHS:

  • our population is changing
  • the cost of treatment is rising
  • we want to be the best in the world

outlining the overall themes of what they want to achieve:

  • give professionals more freedom
  • give patients more power
  • bring together the best providers of healthcare
  • make services more local

and on the listening exercise it says:

This is a genuine chance to make a difference. Where there are good suggestions to improve the legislation or the way things are working on the ground, those changes will be made.

There will be events running in every part of the country over the next two months. This will give people a chance to get involved – from specific events for NHS staff, to others involved with the NHS, and those already involved in making change.

You can also have your say online, and find out more about the engagement process, at www.dh.gov.uk/healthandcare

What now?

Beyond the chair, we don’t yet know who are the members of the NHS Future Forum – hopefully this will include people who are involved in research in the NHS and can speak knowledgeably about its central role in the NHS and the need for this to be built into the system. The choice of Steve Field as chair is interesting. He has been quite vocally supportive of the changes to the NHS in the media, unlike the current Chair of the Royal College of GPs who has expressed concern over the reforms. Nick Robinson has some interesting insights on his blog.

The listening exercise provides an opportunity for us to feed in our concerns about research and make some noise to ensure any big changes build research into the system.

Posted in: Policy