HL Deb 05 November 1991 vol 532 cc141-3

2.44 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the estimated cost of printing and distributing to every household a copy of the Patient's Charter.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the estimated cost of printing and distributing 20 million copies of a summary of the Patient's Charter to households in England is £1.4 million, inclusive of VAT.

Baroness Hamwee

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does she agree that the public will have more than adequate access to the charter at health service premises and elsewhere, even if they are not aware of the contents through the considerable publicity surrounding the launch? Does she further agree that the public will be reassured that expenditure of tax revenue on publicity would be directly related to the delivery of the health service if the spending were on advice? There is, for example, the campaign recently run by the New Zealand Government, with publicity, which has led to a dramatic reduction in cot deaths in that country.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, we believe that, because this is the first time that any government have set out patients' rights under the National Health Service or introduced national standards of service, it is important that every single person in the country is fully aware of patients' rights. The amount for this household drop in the context of this year's overall expenditure of £34 billion on the National Health Service puts the matter in context.

However, we are relying and will rely very much on other methods of distribution through citizens advice bureaux, schools, pharmacies, public libraries and many other organisations, in order to ensure that every single person in the country is fully aware of the excellent services and standards that we provide in our National Health Service.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, if one has the privilege of asking a parliamentary Question, one's needs are rather different from those of a person frightened for a child, a parent or even for themselves? They need to discover how to obtain information and action. Is it not good practice for the service to be driven by the user?

Baroness Hooper

Yes, my Lords. The whole purpose of the charter is to improve services to patients. The charter deals with many areas of concern expressed by patients. It is therefore important that individuals be fully informed.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, what is new in this charter? What distinguishes it from a propaganda sheet? What new rights are guaranteed to patients? Are any guaranteed by law or by penalties? I am worried about those rights that are now being lost, such as the rights of patients to choose what consultant and what hospital they go to, when they discover that there is no contract. What is the significance of this one of the many charters that seem to be dropping on us like confetti?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the noble Lord has very well demonstrated the need for this household drop. He will find when he receives his copy of the charter that all his questions are answered.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, that does not answer my question.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, if we wish to raise standards and improve services that will be achieved, or helped, if those using the services know their rights and obligations as widely as possible? That objective will be met by the leaflet.

Baroness Hooper

Yes, my Lords, I fully agree with my noble friend. I also add that it is only possible to publish the rights and ensure that individuals are able to exercise them because we now have the mechanisms introduced by the National Health Service reforms. The contracting basis of the reforms will enable those rights to be ensured.

Lord Carter

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is confusion over the use of the word "rights" in the Patient's Charter? Are those rights enforceable at law? Will the patient receive compensation if the rights are not met?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the rights are enforceable through the channels that are indicated in the charter document. The full effect, which is all part of the free treatment offered by the National Health Service, will mean that the rights are fully satisfied financially.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is rather sad to think that, if Her Majesty's Government refrained from trying to help people by providing information, they would be castigated by certain sections of our society, but that on the other hand when the Government provide information some people query the cost of providing that information and, no doubt, complain about that? Is my noble friend aware that the cost of providing the information works out at approximately 8p per household? Does she also agree that that is a small price to pay for providing this important information?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I believe the cost amounts to 7p per household.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, will the Government make vigorous efforts to ensure that those who provide the service are clearly aware of the rights of those who use it, as from time to time it appears that that is not the case?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, we fully recognise the key contribution that staff in the National Health Service can make in this area. We are dependent on their wholehearted co-operation for the success of this measure

Baroness Seear

My Lords, will the Minister give us further information on whether these rights are enforceable at law? That is a quite specific point. It is all very well to tell us that when we receive the document we shall learn what we can complain about in court, but presumably the Minister knows now what is enforceable at law and what is not. That is an important distinction.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, there are seven existing rights which are enforceable at law and through the additional channels that are being provided. From April of next year there will be three important new rights.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, mentioned patients' rights and their obligations. Do the Government propose to do anything to inform patients about their obligations?—for example, the obligation of patients when they are put on a waiting list to inform the appropriate personnel if they get better or if they no longer wish to have an operation. At present a great deal of money is being wasted through the failure of patients to keep hospital personnel informed of such developments.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the noble Baroness has made an important point. In disseminating information we hope to ensure that we shall obtain the full co-operation of the public not only as regards exercising their rights but also as regards accepting their obligations.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, can the Minister tell us anything about the Government's programme of charters" How many more charters are likely to be published and on what dates between now and the election?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the noble Lord will have to wait and see what happens.