The new chair of the Commons health committee has named whistleblowing, patient safety and the safeguarding of patient records as key areas of attention for the committee under her stewardship, she told HSJ.
Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative MP for Totnes and a former GP, was elected to the role yesterday.
Speaking exclusively to HSJ, Dr Wollaston outlined some of the issues on which she would like the committee to focus on in coming months.
She said holding the NHS to account as it undergoes a “culture shift” in attitudes to patient safety, and looking at “how staff can feel confident that if they raise a concern, that somebody will listen” would be key agendas.
Another area she would personally like the committee to follow up on is the Care.data programme.
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“I think Care.data is really important but I have been concerned, as have other members of the committee… around who has control of that data,” she said.
“If we’re going to see a successful roll out of Care.data I think there is a role for the committee in making sure that NHS England are not just saying they understand what the public’s concerns are, but actually demonstrating that they are acting on them.”
Dr Wollaston also highlighted the better care fund as another potential area for scrutiny. She said: “I think there are issues around the [better care fund]; how we’re going to make sure it does translate into better care.
“Transferring money from the secondary system to primary services – is that actually going to translate into fewer emergency hospital admissions? Are we going to achieve genuinely better integrated services that work for people?”
On competition, where she has been critical of government policy in the past, she said the committee could “take evidence from experts” and set out any areas where guidance to clinical commissioning groups may need to be “strengthened”.
When asked whether she thought funding for the NHS should increase, Dr Wollaston said this was “not a decision for the committee to make”.
“As a committee chair I think it’s unwise to get into a role where you say that kind of thing. It’s more about saying what can be achieved with this [current] level and holding the system to account for what is being spent and how it’s being spent.”
On this point she specifically raised NHS England’s differential tariff deflator policy, where mental health and community trusts are facing cuts a fifth higher than for the acute sector.
“That seems to me to run contrary to the NHS mandate, so I think those are the kind of things for the committee to hold to account over,” she said.
Dr Wollaston stressed that the areas she had highlighted as potential future lines of enquiry reflected her personal views, and that actual enquiries would be decided by a vote of the majority of the committee.
On her own GP background, Dr Wollaston said she would draw on her experience of being a frontline clinician for 24 years, but would represent patients and not the medical establishment.
“I see the role as using the experience you have which gives you an understanding of the system, but to use it on behalf of the patients who are using the system,” Dr Wollaston said.
“The NHS isn’t something which touches other people’s lives; it touches your life as well.”