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Health and Social Care – Parliamentary Round Up – April 2012

Column by Will Davies which appeared in the April edition of the English Community Care Association (ECCA) member's newsletter.

The past month has been a turbulent one for the sector, with controversy continuing to surround the Health and Social Care Bill which finally completed its tortuous Parliamentary journey. On 20th March the House of Lords approved the Bill, which will now need Royal Assent before being enshrined in the Law.

Pressure was put on the Government to further amend or even scrap the Bill up until its final approval in the Lords. At their Spring Conference, Liberal Democrat delegates ignored calls from the Deputy Prime Minister and Party Leader Nick Clegg to endorse a revised version of the Bill. The delegates’ decision did not have binding power on the Government, however, it certainly increased the political pressure on Mr Clegg.

The Labour Party, helped by a few Liberal Democrat MPs, made a last ditch attempt to delay the Bill by presenting a motion before the Commons, asking the Government to publish the Department of Health’s register of the risks associated with the new policy. The motion was defeated by 82 votes.

In a final act of defiance, Shadow Health Minister Andy Burnham pledged that Labour would overturn the Bill if the party won the next election.

Controversy and intrigue continued with the resignation of Cynthia Bower as Head of the Care and Quality Commission (CQC). The announcement rocked the sector following widespread criticism of the regulator.

In the maelstrom that followed the resignation, many leading figures were critical of Ms Bower and her colleagues.

Gary FitzGerald, Chief Executive of Action on Elder Abuse, called on other CQC board members to resign.

He said: “It is good news that Bowers has finally fallen on her sword.

“But it is not enough. There are others who collaborated in the atrocious strategies adopted by this regulator and who cannot claim immunity from responsibility. We need a fresh start with the board of the commission and that can only mean a thorough spring clean.”

Bower’s resignation came on the back of the publication of the Department of Health’s findings into the performance and capability of the CQC. The Department found that although the Commission had done an excellent job of creating a new system of regulation for Health and Social Care in England, and increased the number and quality of staff inspections, it may have underestimated the scale of the project. As a result the Commission found providers, patients and the public often do not fully understand what role the CQC plays, or how it operates.

The Department of Health recommended the Board of the CQC should set out a clear strategic pathway to success, and make arrangements between the Board and the Executive to ensure they are holding the operations of the CQC to account.

Despite the turmoil, the Department of Health made a number of significant funding announcements in the past month. The Deputy Prime Minister announced an extra £22 million will be geared towards giving children with mental health problems the best access to services. The additional investment in The Children and Young People’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) will go towards funding the expansion of state-of-the-art psychological therapies and extend training for people working outside of health settings, such as in schools or youth clubs.

The Deputy Prime Minister said: “Mental health must have the same priority as physical health. Giving children the treatment they need as soon as they need it will help ensure that millions of children suffering from a mental health problem will have a fairer opportunity to succeed in life.”

The end of March saw Secretary of State for Health Andrew Lansley promise to invest an extra £1.8 million into funding for end of life care. The move is intended to give patients more choices over where they receive end of life care. Speaking at a Marie Curie event the Health Minister stated:

“A fair funding system will enable us to ensure that this support is available. It will ensure all qualified providers of end of life care, whether they be statutory, voluntary or independent, are fairly funded.”

The next few months will continue to put pressure on Mr Lansley as he strives to steer the Health and Social Care Bill through its final stages while continuing to address dissenting voices. People throughout the sector will now turn their attention to the White Paper on Social Care which is due to be published in the late spring.

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