HL Deb 27 October 1997 vol 582 cc880-2

3.5 p.m.

Baroness Rawlings

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to promote integrated healthcare in the National Health Service over the next four and a half years.

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Baroness Jay of Paddington)

My Lords, there are several different definitions of integrated healthcare. However, I believe that the noble Baroness refers to the publication of a document entitled Integrated Health Care—The Way Forward for the Next Five Years? produced by the Foundation for Integrated Medicine. It was launched by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales at a lecture last week which both the noble Baroness and I attended. The Government welcome the publication. We shall be considering the report in great detail and with great care. Department of Health officials are arranging meetings with its main authors to discuss the detailed proposals.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her helpful Answer. What proposals have Her Majesty's Government for establishing relevant centres for integrated healthcare?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, as the noble Baroness will be aware, at this stage the report is a discussion document with no special policy indications within it. As I said in my Answer to her Question, we are discussing all the issues carefully. We shall look at the ways in which some of the healthcare suggested by the report could best be offered. My colleague, Professor Swales, who is the director of research at the Department of Health, will be meeting Professor Stephen Holgate, the main author of the research issues contained in the report, within the next few weeks.

Lord Walton of Detchant

My Lords, is the Minister aware that more and more general practitioners are now referring patients with skeletal and locomotor disorders to osteopaths and chiropractors, especially in the light of the comprehensive training programmes and the rigid control of qualifications which now exist in those professions with statutory regulation? It is now possible for general practitioners who are fundholders to cover the costs of such referrals. Is it the Government's policy that a similar facility will be available to GPs who will be involved in commissioning in the future?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord for the great help he has given to successive governments precisely in the area of appropriate regulation in these complementary therapies. Yes, indeed, our plans to reform the internal market, which will place greater emphasis on local co-operation and participation in the commissioning of healthcare, should make those services more responsive to patients' needs and wishes. The fact that it was exclusively patients of individual fundholders who benefited in some places from the offer of complementary therapy was not considered satisfactory. We wish to broaden that.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, in view of the variety of definitions of integrated healthcare, will the Minister confirm whether her department is looking at the American model of integrated healthcare? It combines disease management and pharmaceutical benefits management and is leading to a number of innovative healthcare solutions.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for providing another definition. One could also say that integrated healthcare might be health and social care. Indeed, the American model of disease management is of great interest. It is something that the Department of Health is looking at.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, with the problem of antibiotics becoming resistant to various infections, what research is being undertaken on alternatives to antibiotics?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I shall have to write to the noble Baroness on the detail in answer to her question as regards complementary alternatives to antibiotics. However, the provision of alternative therapies, or integrated healthcare to use the term of this Question, is a matter that many practitioners have been considering.

Earl Howe

My Lords, what is the Government's policy on the question as to whether there should be statutory self-regulating bodies to oversee the professions which specialise in complementary therapy?

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Walton, mentioned, there are statutory regulations for a certain number of therapies. The question of trying to identify the precise regulation needed for others is under consideration. The noble Earl may be interested to know that a recent report on this matter by the Department of Health indicated 143 registering or umbrella bodies covering 14 major complementary and alternative medical disciplines. To extend that number through individual statute would be a very extensive exercise indeed. The encouraging point was that most self-regulation did seem to be working; less encouraging was the indication that standards were somewhat diverse and public accountability patchy. It is a matter that we must continue to address.