Health Bill

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Steve Webb: I will try to deal briefly with the amendment. As the hon. Member for Westbury hinted, the Committee has been in “may” and “shall” territory before. I understand and sympathise with the spirit of the amendment, which makes it clear that if we are to have chunks of legislation about codes of practice, we want to be sure that they will be enforced. We would therefore much rather that the Bill said “shall”, so that we knew for certain that the Government would get on with delegating the task of producing the code of practice, than the Government simply having the power to delegate the task but not necessarily doing so. In a sense the debate is slightly artificial, because none of us doubts that the Government will act on legislation once they have passed it, but the amendment prompts us to ask why the Bill was drafted in such a way.

The hon. Member for Westbury mentioned the Healthcare Commission report, which is germane to this part of the Bill and to our discussion of codes of practice. When I was interviewed about the report at five past midnight, I was on with someone from MRSA Action UK, which is an action group representing people who, in many cases, have suffered bereavement as a result of MRSA and hospital-acquired infections. I do not speak for the members of that group, but having met them, as other hon. Members have, I am sure that people who have been victims of those various bugs would want not permissive legislation, but legislation that required tough action to be taken.

As we shall discuss on later amendments, it is not sufficient simply to say that there should be a code of practice. As the hon. Gentleman hinted, although I am not sure how far he would take the logic of his argument, codes of practice are fine and good and might be broadly beneficial, but there appears to be no teeth. I am perfectly happy with the amendment, but on its own—the way in which we conduct our proceedings inevitably means that it is not necessarily appropriate to group it with other amendments—it does not cut the mustard. It is not enough simply to say that there must be a code of practice, because there is little sanction or penalty in the Bill. We may insist in the amendment that there should be a code of practice, but nothing might happen if people breach it. We will come to the enforcement of penalties later.

In supporting the amendment, therefore, we are certainly not saying that it goes far enough. However, we want at least to ensure that a code of practice is introduced as a result of our deliberations.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Jane Kennedy): First, Lady Winterton, may I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship. I look
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forward to a good natured debate on an important subject—one in which the public rightly take a great interest. Although leeway was given to both speakers, I shall try to respond to their comments without straying too far from the amendment, which is narrow. We will probably debate some of the issues raised this morning in greater detail when we come to clause 14, which deals with the duties and responsibilities of the Healthcare Commission.

Secondly, I congratulate the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen—the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) and his two honourable and gallant Friends, the hon. Members for Westbury and for Reigate (Mr. Blunt). I have not seen it reported, but I assume that they have been confirmed in their positions. I am pleased to see them in their places, and I wish them well in their roles.

The hon. Member for Westbury raised some good points. I shall start by speaking about those with which I agree. He was right to say that patients in mental health institutions deserve precisely the same quality and standard of care as patients elsewhere in the health service—wherever that care is commissioned.

I welcome the Healthcare Commission report. Sir Liam Donaldson invited the commission to undertake that study. Today, we are debating the code, and at future sittings we will be considering the commission’s role. We want to develop that role so that we do not have to ask the commission to undertake specific studies; it will become an integral part of its work. We will give the commission powers to inspect the performance of health service organisations against the code.

It is worth knowing exactly what the Healthcare Commission said. The hon. Gentleman quoted from its report. We always quote selectively in order to prove our point, but on that point I begin to disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Simon Gillespie also said:

    “We have found some excellent performance. It is a myth to say all our hospitals are dirty.”

The constant repetition of that myth is a disservice to the health service and to the public; it makes people anxious, but their anxiety is ill-founded.

The Healthcare Commission inspected a random sample of 28 independent hospitals, but the rest of the sample was not random; it inspected 10 of the best and 60 of the worst performers in the national health service. I was encouraged to hear that 45 of the 60 worst performers were found to have made substantial improvements. Hospitals will benefit from the detailed report that the commission will make after every inspection. The inspections will enable the institutions to understand where they are failing and to improve their performance, so that they deliver better, cleaner hospitals.

The hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out that some hospitals were performing very badly. However, I was puzzled by the BBC’s headline. I forget the exact words, but the spin on the story was remarkable. The commission’s report was balanced; it rightly turned the spotlight on those areas that were failing and showed where improvement was needed. That is the purpose of commission reports. They remind the
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health service of its responsibilities to its patients. I know that the institutions that have been inspected will take note and will work hard to improve.

Dr. Murrison: To be fair to the BBC—unusually so—it was saying that if hospitals such as Great Ormond Street are achieving so much, why on earth are the rest not doing so. If some are managing to do that, it is clearly not that difficult. What is happening with the rest?

Jane Kennedy: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, but I believe that the BBC spin was misleading. A significant number of institutions were inspected in which some areas had suffered a failure in cleanliness. However, there was no overall failure in cleanliness. That was in the band 2 category. Those institutions,
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those hospitals, those places delivering health care will need to attend to such matters. However, to categorise two thirds as having failed was overstating the findings of the report. The hon. Gentleman may say that I would say that. However, I am working with the Healthcare Commission and the NHS; and I am legislating in order to bring about the improvements that he and I agree are needed.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about the Government’s strategy and the purpose of the code. The code is available; indeed, I had copies of the draft made available to the Committee.

It being twenty-five minutes past Ten o’clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at One o’clock.

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Prepared 16 December 2005