As the storm that accompanied the journey of the Health and Social Care Bill to Royal Assent subsided, our sector has enjoyed relative calm in the past month. However, despite Parliamentary recess for Easter, several noteworthy policy developments from the Department of Health are worthy of discussion.
The proposed changes to tobacco packaging attracted considerable political and media attention. Tobacco displays were removed from supermarkets at the beginning of the month, and a consultation to determine the potential impact of plain packaging for tobacco products was launched shortly afterwards. At the launch of the consultation, which will take evidence from NHS and local authority chief executives, Health Minister Andrew Lansley was keen to stress that the Government has an open mind on the issue.
Significantly, this is the first time that a consultation has detailed what requirements for standardised packaging might consist of, including no branding, a uniform colour and a standard font and text. This move has predictably seen reaction from the tobacco industry. John Noble, Director of British Brands Group, was sceptical about the impact the legislation will have on reducing smoking, saying:
“We feel plain packaging risks taking a myopic view of branding where it is seen as an unproven link between the role of branding and smoking behaviour, while it ignores the wider role of branding.
Cancer campaigners will also have been cheered by the news of significant developments in the treatment of cancer, specifically breast cancer and prostate cancer. The Government published a guidance note for GPs on the referral process for patients with suspected cancer, entitled “Direct access to diagnostic tests for cancer: best practice referral pathways for general practitioners.” The note is part of a wider strategy for early intervention and the referral to diagnostic test to rule out or diagnose cancer at an early stage.
Later in the month, the highly politicised topic of foreign language checks for doctors was in the media spotlight. The Department of Health launched proposals to ensure foreign language checks for doctors practicing in England, which were debated at Prime Minister’s Questions. The issue was thrust into the public eye in 2008, when David Gray, from Manea in Cambridgeshire, was unlawfully killed by Daniel Ubani, a German Locum GP. Ubani’s linguistic shortcomings meant that he mistakenly injected his patient with 100mg of diamorphine – 10 times the recommended maximum dose. Under the terms of the new proposals, senior doctors, who are responsible for ensuring other doctors’ fitness to practice, will also be responsible for ensuring their understudies have a sufficient grasp of English.
Elsewhere, delegates at the Nursing and Quality Care Forum were challenged by Prime Minister David Cameron to actively seek out best practice across the NHS. The forum, made up of 22 health care professionals, will seek to determine and implement best practice, and has been established as part of the on-going drive to ensure the majority of nurses’ time is spent caring, rather than on other peripheral tasks.
The forthcoming and much delayed White Paper on Social Care, which will set out how the government intends to reform the care sector’s legal framework, funding and delivery, promises to dominate the agenda over the coming weeks. ECCA members can expect, therefore, that health and social care will continue to feature prominently on the national political and media agenda for some time to come. It remains to be seen, however, whether it will attract similar levels of controversy.