Headlines: February 12th, 1999

The new Health Bill being debated in the House of Lords provides for partnerships with local government and community groups to provide better healthcare. The Bill sets out new powers to break down barriers, not just between health and social services, but between the NHS and wider local government, through greater flexibility over the transfer of funds. It also covers operational arrangements such as pooled budgets.

The legislation aims to encourage health services and local authorities to think more inventively; to develop innovative solutions to long-standing problems; and to use local resources in new and imaginative ways.

Partnership working is already in place in the 26 Health Action Zones covering some 13 million people. From 1st April Health Authorities and local authority partners will come together to develop Health Improvement Programmes to improve health and health services and tackle inequalities.

Other features of the Bill include the creation of 481 Primary Care Groups bringing together family doctors, nurses and social services. The abolition of the two-tier fund-holding scheme. The introduction of new legal duties of quality of care and of partnership, to make sure the NHS works together to drive up standards for patients. The creation of two new bodies to oversee the implementation of the quality agenda – the National Institute for Clinical Excellence and the Commission for Health Improvement. Improvements to strengthen the existing systems of professional self-regulation to ensure that they are more open, responsive and publicly accountable.