§ 2.44 p.m.
§ Lord Colwyn
My Lords, with the permission of my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in her name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government how the Commission for Healthcare Audit and Inspection will monitor progress made by the National Health Service in implementing the recently published recommendations in the National Institute for Clinical Excellence guidelines on the management of multiple sclerosis.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner)
My Lords, the Commission for Healthcare Audit and Inspection will develop criteria for assessing the performance of NHS bodies, taking account of the Secretary of State's statement of healthcare standards, which are currently subject to public consultation.
972 These draft standards currently propose that NHS treatment and care should be based on nationally agreed best practice and guidance, including that issued by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence.
§ Lord Colwyn
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend, I thank the Minister for that reply. I gather that she has a daughter who suffers from the disease. My noble friend is not well this afternoon, although I gather she may struggle in a little later.
Multiple sclerosis has unpleasant symptoms; it causes distress to both patients and relatives. In view of the fact that North Bristol NHS Trust recently abandoned plans for a new centre of excellence for financial reasons, can the Minister confirm that the Government realise the importance of the NICE recommendations, particularly the provision of more specialist nurses to enable seamless advice and treatment to patients with multiple sclerosis?
§ Lord Warner
My Lords, I am sure we all wish the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, a speedy recovery. We are committed, as a government, to improving services for patients with MS. NICE's guidance, together with the forthcoming national service framework for long-term conditions and the risk-sharing scheme for providing beta interferon for MS patients will help to ensure an improvement in services.
We have provided funding to increase the number of multiple sclerosis specialist nurses to help to support the implementation of the multiple sclerosis risk-sharing scheme. Some £800,000 was made available in 2003–04 and 2004–05, and £1.2 million will be provided in 2005–06 to help to meet the cost of employing extra nurses.
§ Lord Clement-Jones
My Lords, one of the key recommendations in the new guidelines involves the provision of specialist neurological services to multiple sclerosis sufferers. It is quite clear that without specific contracts and good practices in the commissioning of specialist services for MS patients, those who suffer from the disease will lack needed access to care. Have not the Government made their task that much more difficult by transferring responsibility for commissioning specialist services from regional commissioning bodies to PCTs?
§ Lord Warner
No, my Lords. There is a slightly weary note in my voice here—as the noble Lord knows, we have been over the subject of specialist commissioning quite often in different guises. The Government are committed to devolving responsibility to PCTs, which have been given the resources to commission services and come together in confederations for specialist services.
§ Lord Dubs
My Lords, my noble friend's statement about the additional resources for specialist nursing is most welcome. Will he confirm that when these are 973 in place, in two or three years' time, there will be sufficient facilities so that those patients who are prescribed beta interferon by their doctors will be able to have the necessary nursing support and back-up to give effect to their overall treatment?
§ Lord Warner
My Lords, I think I can give that confirmation. The scheme that was started in May 2002 and which is backed by statutory directions tries to ensure that there is no postcode prescribing of these specialist treatments and that we have, uniquely, joined together with other interests to make sure that beta interferon is available to those patients who need it.