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Paragraph (f) allows regulations to be made about matters which are excluded from consideration. For example, the NHS procedure has always been about patients having the right to complain if they are not happy with the treatment or service they have received. That is right, but other people either in or using NHS facilities, such as contractors, need to be excluded. Of course they can raise their concerns and have them addressed, but that is not the purpose behind the procedure provided for here. These are safeguards to deal with the exceptions.
Baroness Barker: I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness at this late hour, but within the important and extremely detailed explanation of the clause that she is giving the Committee, can she confirm whether this would enable people to make complaints when they have been excluded from the provision of NHS care to which they feel that they should be entitled? I cite, for example, continuing NHS care.
Baroness Andrews: If someone has been excluded from NHS care, there would be a reason for that, along with a history and a background to the case. Presumably those would form the basis of the complaint. If I am wrong then I shall certainly write to the noble Baroness, but I see no reason why they should be excluded from making a complaint.
I turn to Amendment No. 389. We believe that this is too detailed a point to be covered by the Bill. Again this refers to time-scales, but it is only reasonable that the reformed complaints procedure should include time-scales. However, it is right that there should be measures in place to deal with complaints that are allowed to drift unnecessarily, and we want to stop that from happening. These would include referring
However, I am sympathetic to the spirit of Amendment No. 393. It is essential for information to be freely available in order for the complaints procedures to be as accessible as we would all wish. I want to reassure noble Lords that we intend to make provision about this in regulations. Although I believe that we can achieve that without the addition of this specific provision, I am minded to take it away for further consideration with a view to coming back with an amendment on Report.
The general powers to make regulations about the handling of complaints contained in Clauses 111(1) and 112(1) are sufficient to allow regulations to make provision about making information for the complaints procedure available to the public, but as I have said, I sympathise with the purpose of the proposed amendment.
I turn now to the final set of amendments in the grouping, Amendments Nos. 384 and 385. These amendments would have the effect of requiring that regulations made under these clauses are dealt with under the affirmative resolution procedure. We do not believe that that is either desirable or necessary. We have set out a clear programme for reforming the way in which complaints are made under the complaints procedure and we have been open about the reasons for that reform. Indeed, the whole history of the process over the past two years was set out in the departmental paper, NHS complaints procedure reform: making things right, published in March this year. It also marks the way forward. So our intentions have been made clear and, similarly, how they are to be covered is set out in the Bill.
I emphasise that this is the first time that the detail of the complaints procedures will be subject to regulation. This improves the current provision and sets the procedures apart from the procedure of handling complaints under Sections 24D and 26 of the Children Act 1989 and the requirements for complaints procedures set out in regulations applying to providers of family healthcare services. These have been subject to a variety of directions and we are changing that. We intend that the regulations will cover who may complain and about what; what they can expect by way of a full and prompt response; and, if necessary, a review of the complaint by a body which will be completely independent of the organisation complained about. The regulations will also place responsibility with health and social care organisations for making effective responses and, as I have said, we are committed to involving all stakeholders.
The noble Baroness asked about data protection. These bodies will be subject to the Data Protection Act and people will be asked to consent to the disclosure of appropriate information when they make a complaint
The Government wrote a longer response when this issue was raised by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee which I shall be very happy to copy to the noble Baroness. So we have been open about the changes we intend to make.
Another problem which would be raised by the affirmative resolution procedure is that the amendments fail to take account of the devolution settlement. Under these clauses the Assembly will be given the power to make regulations detailing how health and social care complaints procedures will operate in Wales. It would therefore be inappropriate for the draft regulations to have to be approved by both Houses before the Assembly can make them.
Baroness Noakes: I thank the Minister for that extremely comprehensive response and for some good news. I am pleased that the Government will cover the issue of timescales, that they will consult widely, that oral hearings will be included and that the complainants will be involved in selecting the process. All of those provisions are good news. I thank the Minister for the assurance that issues such as long-term care will not be excludedindeed, that all care offered or not offered by the NHS will be covered by these regulations.
That leaves only a couple of areas where the Minister's response was a little disappointing. The Minister said that the position of the independent sector is comprehensive, but that preserves artificial distinctions between the independent sector and the NHS which, as I tried to demonstrate in opening, are already blurred. We need to think about that issue further.
We shall also need to think further about the affirmative procedure, in particular because of the use of personal data. I completely take the Minister's point about the Assembly and devolution, which often slips one's mind. But there are some important issues in regard to the regulation-making powers, the use of personal data and compensation payments. The Minister rang a bell when she referred to the fact that this is the first time complaints regulations are being put together. Perhaps the first set of regulations should themselves be subject to the affirmative procedure because that is where so much will be set out. I should like to think further about personal data and I should be grateful for the letter that the Minister has offered to me. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: We now come to the clause dealing with complaints about social services. Very simply, Clause 112 effectively repeals the existing complaints procedure for local authority social services set out in existing social services legislation and replaces it with a new process. Under subsection (2), CSCI is one of the bodies that can consider complaints.
Local authorities and their representative body have concerns about the inclusion of CSCI in that list. It is interesting to note that under subsection (4), there is no reference to CSCI as far as concerns Wales. It is only for English local authorities that CSCI is included. That is a significant omission. As the previous social services inspector did not have a role in considering complaints, there is a lack of understanding as to why CSCI, the SSI's successor, should assume that role. There may simply be a feeling of symmetryas CHAI deals with health services, so CSCI should deal with social services. I do not believe that that should necessarily be the case, and look forward to what the Minister has to say. I beg to move.
Baroness Andrews: We were slightly surprised by this amendment because it runs counter to the very principles of what we are trying to achieve. We can usually count on the noble Lord to share our vision.
I hope I have made it clear so far that the overriding principle of what we are trying to achieve is to make the process easier and more accessible, and to increase the chance of achieving the right outcomes for people. CSCI is crucial to that. It will enable the review stage to be geared to the circumstances of each case. Making Things Right, which was published earlier this year, contains a solid argument about why CSCI is important for doing just that.
Nobody knows better than people like the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, that the key difficulty with the current procedures is that they make it difficult for complainants, health bodies and local authorities to deal with complaints that cut across health and social care services. We have only to reflect, as we do so often in this House, on the implications of the Community Care (Delayed Discharges etc.) Act.
The way in which the review stages are handled by health and social services, being different in their structure and in their process, makes it very difficult to deal collectively with complaints of that sort. That is why we are looking for a parallel process for single points of access and a very strong independent review mechanism at the top. That is the role of the two new commissions in the independent review stage. The provisions we have made that will allow them to co-operate and work on each other's behalf are crucial to improving that.
For the reasons that I have offered, we would be very reluctant for the amendment to be adopted, because it would lead to greater disparity between the way in which complaints are handled in health and social care, rather than bringing the process together. It would not bring the desired overview and independence that we want to see. I hope that the noble Lord will take the case put on those two grounds and withdraw the amendment.
Lord Clement-Jones: I thank the Minister for her reply. Far be it from me to obstruct the onward march of progress or arrest the grand designs that are clearly in the Minister's mind, as we march forward with health and social care in tandem, towards a bright and glorious future. There is something rather Stakhanovite about the whole concept.
I have not yet had an answer as to why Wales should be different. If the grand design that is so desirable in England is being achieved, why not in Wales?
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