HL Deb 17 June 1999 vol 602 cc470-1

71 After Clause 39, insert the following new clause—


(".—(1) Section 15 of the Health Service Commissioners Act 1993 (confidentiality of information) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1), at the beginning of paragraph (e) there is inserted "where the information is to the effect that any person is likely to constitute a threat to the health or safety of patients".

(3) Subsection (1A) is omitted.

(4) In subsection (1B)—

  1. (a) for "such a case" there is substituted "a case within subsection (1)(e)",
  2. (b) the words following "patients" are omitted.

  1. (5) In subsection (1C), for paragraphs (a) and (b) there is substituted—
    1. "(a) where he knows the identity of the person mentioned in subsection (1)(e), inform that person that he has disclosed the information and of the identity of any person to whom he has disclosed it, and
    2. (b) inform the person from whom the information was obtained that he has disclosed it".").

Baroness Hayman

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 71. This amendment delivers on a commitment that I made during our previous consideration of the Bill. The Health Service Commissioner believes that the current legislation under which he works—the Health Service Commissioners Act 1993—unnecessarily restricts him in disclosing information that he receives. That issue was raised by my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey. At present there are statutory limitations on the commissioner's discretion to disclose information that he obtains as a result of a complaint which leads him to believe there is a threat to the health or safety of patients. In particular, he has been advised that he cannot disclose information if he decides not to investigate the complaint or if the matter of concern fails to be disclosed in one of his investigation reports. If the commissioner obtains information which suggests that the health or safety of patients is likely to be at risk, he should be able to pass that information on to the appropriate authorities, irrespective of how he chooses to deal with the specific complaint made. This amendment makes that possible.

I reassure the House that this amendment seeks only to remove inappropriate restrictions on the commissioner's existing discretion to disclose information. He is not seeking powers to make more general judgments about professional competence and conduct. However, if a complaint indicates a serious threat to the health or safety of patients, it is right that he should be able to pass on appropriate information to those with responsibility for investigating and dealing with that threat.

Subsections (2), (3) and (4) of Commons Amendment No. 71 allow the commissioner to make appropriate disclosure of information where it is in the interests of the health or safety of patients for him to do so. It is equally important that he should not be constrained as to which responsible authorities he can disclose information. The latter half of Section 15(1B) of the Health Service Commissioners Act 1993, as amended, could be interpreted as placing such a constraint on him. Subsection (4)(b) of the new clause removes that element of uncertainty by omitting the list of examples of the type of body which might be passed information.

Subsection (5) of the new clause places an obligation on the commissioner to tell the provider of the information that he has disclosed it. In practice, he already does so, on the very rare occasions when he has exercised his discretion, but we believe it is appropriate to make that explicit.

The amendment clarifies the extent of the Health Service Commissioners' discretion to disclose information in the interests of the health and safety of patients. It responds positively to concerns raised in this House during our initial consideration of the Bill. We have worked closely with the current Health Service Commissioner, Mr Michael Buckley, in drafting the amendment. I confirm that he is happy with it. I commend the amendment to the House.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 71.—(Baroness Hayman.)

Lord Harris of Haringey

My Lords, I merely wish to welcome the amendment and say how pleased I am that the Government have been able to bring a provision forward in another place on this issue.

There was an anomaly here. It potentially removed a line of protection for patients. The health service commissioner might come upon circumstances in the course of an investigation that really should be dealt with by some other body, but would be unable directly to pass the matter on. The amendment gives the Health Service Commissioner unequivocally the powers, where the health and safety of patients is at risk, to refer such matters to other bodies. I am delighted that the provision will now be on the face of the Bill.

On Question, Motion agreed to.