Last week, Stephen Gilbert MP, who has consistently championed the NHS in Parliament – challenging the use of private companies to perform health service functions and refusing to back the Government’s NHS reforms in 2011, secured Parliamentary time for a debate on the way that specialised NHS services are commissioned.
Local ‘Clinical Commissioning Groups’ (CCGs) are currently responsible for commissioning the vast majority of health services and treatments, with the exception of a small number of specialised services which are the responsibility of NHS England. However, NHS England plans to devolve the responsibility or enter joint commissioning arrangements with CCGs have caused concern for patients and providers alike.
Stephen’s calls for the debate came after a local constituent and campaigner, Nicola Hawkins, who is on renal dialysis treatment, raised concerns about the proposed changes and launched an online petition which has already been signed by almost 35,000 people.
Commenting on the issue, Nicola Hawkins, who lives in St Austell, explained the effect that the proposed changes may have on her treatment:
“My major worry is that a change could mean negative consequences for my health and wellbeing. Dialysis is my life support system and I’d rather it wasn’t tinkered with and if changes are proposed, then that they are made by experts in renal care. I agree with the call from kidney charities for a delay of a year in order that they can work with policy makers to make any proposed changes as well as possible with as little detrimental affect on dialysis patients.”
Stephen Gilbert has also met with and spoken to numerous patient and provider groups, including the Specialised Healthcare Alliance, the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, the British Kidney Patient Association, the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, the Motor Neurone Disease Association, the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry, the Royal College of Physicians, the NHS Clinical Commissioners, NHS Providers and the Medical Technology Group.
During the debate, Stephen said:
“I want to speak up for patients and reflect the concerns of those with rare and complex conditions, whose voice is often not heard. We are in the middle of a six-month period during which NHS England is developing plans to change radically the way specialised services are planned and funded. NHS England is doing that with remarkable secrecy, militating against external scrutiny.
“Collectively, tens of thousands of people call upon specialised services for such things as HIV, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, haemophilia, leukaemia and other cancers, renal dialysis and hepatitis C, among many other conditions.
“Despite the clear views being expressed by the patient community and others, neither NHS England nor the Department of Health has opened any consultation on the developments.”
Stephen went on to ask the Health Minister to commit NHS England to remaining the sole budget holder for specialised services and to conduct full and proper consultation and public engagement exercises around the changes.
In his response, the Minister for Health, Norman Lamb MP, said:
“I take the concerns seriously. My hon. Friend discussed the need for more time in his speech. I will put his representations to officials and NHS England. I cannot go further than that, but I recognise the importance of the issues that he raises and I pay tribute to the work of his constituent Nicola Hawkins in collecting many names on her petition.
“The approach being taken is a deliberative one that does not impose things on the tight time scale that my hon. Friend was concerned about. Collaborative commissioning would likely be carried out through joint NHS England and CCG committees. It would maintain the expertise—the specialism—but there would be the potential to spread that expertise and build capacity at a local level, which could be in the interests of everyone.”
Speaking about the need for proper public engagement, the Minister said: “I can reassure my hon. Friend on both those points. Openness, transparency and engagement with patient groups are incredibly important, and I would always argue the case for them.”
Commenting after the debate, Stephen Gilbert added:
“I was delighted to have secured Parliamentary time for this important debate. The issue is of grave concern to all those who suffer from rare or complex conditions and need specialised treatment requiring a high degree of expertise. I love our NHS and I know how vital it is to every single one of us, that is why I am so determined to protect it from ill-thought-through and potentially disastrous changes. I have not been afraid to highlight areas of concern or speak out against the Government on the NHS, and I will continue to do so for as long as I am your MP.
“Nicola is an inspirational campaigner who has helped ensure that Ministers and NHS bosses hear and understand patient concerns. I will be continuing my dialogue with the Department for Health on her behalf and I am pleased with the concessions made by the Minister during the debate.”