I welcome the intention, through the Health and Care Bill, to develop more integrated care between the NHS, local government, social care providers and other partners to deliver better integration of health and care services on the ground. The reforms proposed in the Health and Care Bill will continue to improve the quality and sustainability of NHS services and outcomes for patients.
Service provision by the independent and voluntary sectors has been, and continues to be, an important and valuable feature of our healthcare system, which I fully support. ICBs are NHS bodies guided by the NHS Constitution and with the values of the NHS at heart. Safeguards are already in place to ensure that the interests of the public and the NHS are always put first. The ICB chair would have the power to veto members of the board and there are robust requirements on ICBs to manage conflicts of interests.
That said, I do appreciate that there are concerns about private sector involvement in ICBs. It is important that people are assured that the work of ICBs will be driven by health outcomes, not by profits.
However, it is irresponsible scaremongering to suggest that Integrated Care Boards and Partnerships are being used to support privatisation, or cuts to NHS funding. The NHS will always be free at the point of use, and I believe these reforms will continue to improve the quality of NHS services and outcomes for patients. Ensuring every part of England is covered by an Integrated Care Board and Partnership is a key way of promoting local collaboration.
It is also important to note that primary care commissioners have long had the choice to commission services from a range of primary care providers. I believe it is crucial that local health commissioners have flexibility to commission partnerships, individuals and private and third sector organisations to deliver GP services to meet the specific healthcare needs of their local populations. Alternative Provider Medical Service Contracts (APMS) offer greater flexibility than national standard contracts, allowing commissioners to better meet local need and fill any gaps not covered by core general practice. Private and third sector providers play a vital role in the delivery of local services and must adhere to the same quality and safety standards as any other form of GP contractor.
Furthermore, the Health and Care Bill would extend the oversight that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has over the health service in a number of areas. This includes providing direction to NHS England and Improvement and the ability to intervene in health service reconfigurations.
On procurement, the Bill proposes the repeal of a number of clauses in the Health and Social Care Act 2012, including Section 75 which placed requirements on local health bodies to competitively tender for some health care services “where it adds no or limited value”.
The Kings Fund, an independent charity, has said about the reforms: “This Bill will remove cumbersome competition rules and make it simpler for health and care organisations to work together to deliver more joined-up care to the increasing numbers of people who rely on multiple different services.”
The purpose of the data provisions in the Bill are to promote more effective data sharing across the health and care system, whilst requiring high standards of data protection (such as Clause 81) and ensure that data is only shared for the promotion of health.”
Overall, I welcome that the Government has amended the Health and Care Bill, putting beyond doubt that Integrated Care Boards will not be controlled in any way by the private sector. No one that could potentially undermine the NHS due to their involvement in the private healthcare sector should sit on an ICB. The Government’s amendment makes clear that no one may be appointed to an ICB who would undermine the independence of the NHS, either as a result of their interests in the private healthcare sector, or otherwise.