• Mental health, adult social care, safety and NHS long-term plan feature in queen’s speech
  • Two bills proposed, on patient safety and medicines and devices
  • Legislation not likely to get far in this parliament

Boris Johnson’s government has proposed to create a new patient safety regulator with statutory powers, and deregulation of medicines and devices.

It will also continue to consider the legislation proposals from NHS England linked to the NHS long term plan, work on updating the Mental Health Act, and seek to put forward reforms of adult social care, according to its plans laid out in the Queen’s Speech today.

A Queen’s Speech normally sets out a government’s legislative agenda for a parliamentary term. However, the current Conservative government has no majority, and with a likely general election looming, few if any of the commitments are expected to become law in this term. Instead they indicate the Conservatives’ agenda if they remain in power.

The speech said: “Measures will be brought forward to support and strengthen the National Health Service, its workforce and resources, enabling it to deliver the highest quality care.”

The government proposed two specific bills on health. 

A Medicines and Medical Devices Bill, the government said, would allow more professions to prescribe low-risk drugs and remove some regulations for clinical trials, among other changes. A government briefing said it would “ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of the global life sciences industry after Brexit, giving patients faster access to innovative medicines and supporting the growth of our domestic sector”.

A Health Service Safety Investigations Bill, which has been delayed for two years, would put the existing Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch on a statutory footing. Set up in 2017 to probe serious safety incidents, HSIB has faced criticisms of poor governance and cultural problems in recent months.

The safety bill would also amend the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 to allow trusts to appoint medical examiners, whose job is to routinely review deaths.

In addition to these proposed bills, the Queen’s speech said government would “continue work to reform the Mental Health Act to improve respect for, and care of, those receiving treatment”, following a review of it by Sir Simon Wessely, which began in 2017. In a separate briefing, government said it would “publish a White Paper by the end of this year” on the MHA.

In relation to the legislation requests finalised by NHSE last month - which would weaken competition rules and regulation, among other changes - a government briefing said: “We are considering the NHS’s recommendations thoroughly and will bring forward detailed proposals shortly.

“In due course, we will publish draft legislation that will accelerate the long term plan for the NHS, transforming patient care and future-proofing our NHS.”

And on social care, government said it planned to fix the adult social care “crisis” with “substantive” reforms. There has been no detail so far on what ministers are planning for this notoriously controversial and complex issue.

In relation to the safety bill proposal, Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch chief inspector Keith Conradi said he hoped for Royal Assent “sometime next summer”. The Health Service Safety Investigation Body “will run in ‘shadow’ form for about a year and should commence operations by autumn 2021”, he said.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt warned a general election would put the patient safety bill at risk. He told HSJ: “It is very encouraging news that the [HSIB] bill is in the Queen’s Speech and Matt Hancock has shown real commitment to patient safety by negotiating it in despite many other pressures.

“In reality we may have an election before the bill becomes law so I have today written to all party health spokespeople seeking assurances that they will do that - preventing avoidable harm and death is too important to get lost in the fog of a ’Brexit general election.’”

MPs will debate the Queen’s Speech in the Commons from Monday afternoon.

 

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