Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2007/2008

Date: 18 October 2007



Health and Social Care Bill

18 October 2007

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mrs Iris Robinson (Chairperson)
Mr Thomas Buchanan
Dr Kieran Deeny
Mr Alex Easton
Mr Tommy Gallagher
Mrs Carmel Hanna
Mr John McCallister
Ms Carál Ní Chuilín
Ms Sue Ramsey


Ms Joyce Cairns ) Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety
Dr Norman Morrow )

The Chairperson (Mrs I Robinson):

I welcome the departmental officials, who are here to brief members on the forthcoming Health and Social Care Bill. The officials will brief the Committee, and then members may ask questions if they wish.

Ms Joyce Cairns (Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety):

We are here to bring before the Committee a proposal to include certain devolved matters in a Westminster Bill. The provisions of the Bill that involve devolved matters are the abolition of the National Biological Standards Board, the regulation of the healthcare professions, and the creation of a new health and adult social care regulator — OFCARE — which will be for England only. We should also mention a proposal for a health and pregnancy grant, which will be a matter for DSD. We mention that because the Bill straddles the roles of a couple of Departments, and that must be mentioned in respect of any composite Bill that will go forward.

Two substantial reviews, one of medical regulation, and one of non-medical regulation, have taken place. Recommendations were drawn from those reviews, and they appeared in a White Paper, which was published in February 2007. Regulation of all the healthcare professions, except pharmacy, is currently carried out on UK-wide basis. Pharmacy is the only healthcare profession that is currently regulated on a Northern Ireland basis. The Bill is intended to allow harmonisation.

Northern Ireland must be included in the legislative base to enable detailed provisions to be taken forward at a later stage. The legislative provisions relate to enabling powers. The detail of what will be put in place to take forward the recommendations of the White Paper will be worked up by groups that the Department of Health in England is establishing. Those working groups will include representation from all of the devolved Administrations. There will be a few years of work in all of that, and no detailed measures are contained in the Bill — those are at a higher level. The Bill is enabling legislation; subordinate legislation would be taken forward at a later stage, when it is decided what particular measures will be put in place in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Mr Gallagher:

I presume that this is enabling legislation and that any further changes to it will be made after consultation with the Committee.

Ms Cairns:

Yes, the matter would be brought to the Committee again at a later stage.

Ms Ní Chuilín:

Is the legislation already in place in England?

Ms Cairns:

It is planned that the Bill will go forward in early to mid November, so it is currently a draft Bill. The abolition of the National Biological Standards Board and the other measures are included in the draft Bill, but it is not yet finalised.

The Chairperson:

The briefing paper on the Health and Social Care Bill states that the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland has been informed that the Minister is strongly minded to adopt the approach of the establishment of a general pharmaceutical council, covering the profession throughout the UK. Does that mean that that measure will be implemented?

Dr Norman Morrow (Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety):

The Minister has since had a discussion with the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland, which involved a presentation that it made to the Committee. He has indicated that he is minded in favour of a UK regulatory arrangement, which would bring all of the health professions into harmony because pharmacy is the only health profession that sits outside of such an arrangement. However, he has indicated clearly to the society that he has not yet made a final decision. He also said that it is his intention to seek the enabling legislation, but that is without prejudice to a final decision. The Department has since had some correspondence from the society that states that it understands the need for regulatory provision, but has emphasised the point that that is without prejudice to the Minister’s decision. It is enabling legislation

Ms Ní Chuilín:

I assume that this process is similar to the one that would apply to any other Bill. We are bringing together the enabling legislation in order to allow for a decision one way or the other.

Dr N Morrow:

Yes. If we do not have the enabling legislation, a decision cannot be taken, unless, at a later date, legislative assent is required from the Assembly in order to introduce the elements that affect Northern Ireland.

The Chairperson:

If members have no further questions, I thank Dr Norman Morrow and Joyce Cairns for their time in what was a relatively short and simple exercise.