I welcome Deputy Áine Brady, who is attending for the first time in her capacity as Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children. I wish her success in her brief.
Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2009: Committee Stage.
I, too, welcome the Minister of State.
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 5, between lines 24 and 25, to insert the following subsection:
"(2) The Health Acts 1947 to 2008 and this Act may be cited together as the Health Acts 1947 to 2009.".
This is a technical amendment. What I propose is the normal procedure in terms of Health Acts citation and it should be taken on board.
The legal advice available to the Minister is that it would not be desirable to make the amendment along the lines suggested by the Deputy. As most of the enactments dealt with in the current Bill are not Health Acts, the proposed citation could therefore have unintended consequences. An exception is section 60 of the Bill, which amends the Health Act 2007, which is cited and construed with the Health Acts. It may, therefore, be appropriate to amend section 60 of the Bill to provide that the Health Acts and section 60 may be cited together as the Health Acts 1947 to 2009. The Minister will ask the Parliamentary Counsel to examine this matter with a view to tabling such an amendment on Report Stage, if appropriate.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 5, between lines 28 and 29, to insert the following subsection:
"(3) Prior to making an order under subsection (2), the Minister shall publish and lay before both Houses of the Oireachtas proposals as to how the work carried on by any body abolished by this Act will be carried out by the Minister or the Executive.".
This is the most substantial amendment I have tabled to the legislation. It is self-explanatory and is to ensure the work that has been carried out by the abolished organisations will continue and that there will be a mechanism to ensure this.
As I stated on Second Stage, I am particularly concerned about the work of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency. All the agencies have done very good work and it is important that it be continued and monitored. I am particularly concerned about the Crisis Pregnancy Agency because it was established following a report of the All-Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution which dealt with abortion and proposed there should be such an agency to provide "real and positive alternatives to abortion". All the statistics have shown the agency has done very good work. The number of women going to Britain for abortions has been reducing steadily over the years. The Crisis Pregnancy Agency had a very clear agenda and worked very closely with a variety of different organisations on that agenda. It has been successful in this regard. It has made recommendations on how its work should proceed. It is vital to have a mechanism to ensure this work is not just subsumed into the general work of the Department.
The primary function of the National Council on Ageing and Older People and the Women's Health Council is to give advice to the Minister. Repositioning these advisory functions in regard to women's health and older people within the Department will facilitate the Minister in formulating policy in these areas. Employees will be transferred under the Bill and their expertise will therefore be retained in the Department as they will be civil servants. Similarly, employees of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, the Drug Treatment Centre Board and the National Cancer Screening Service will be transferred to the HSE. Their skills will be retained within the HSE.
In line with legal advice, the Bill also provides for the transfer to the HSE of certain functions of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency. The HSE is examining how best to integrate and carry on the work of the three agencies concerned. The Minister considers, however, that it would not be appropriate to lay specific integration proposals before the Houses of the Oireachtas as work programmes will, in the normal course of events, change and develop. In addition, arrangements are already in place whereby the Oireachtas is informed of the activities of both the Department and the HSE.
Under the Public Service Management Act 1997, the Department is required to prepare a strategy statement comprising key objectives, outputs and related strategies. This statement of strategy is laid before the Oireachtas in accordance with the Act. Annual reports are prepared on progress in regard to the strategy statement.
Under the Health Act 2004, the HSE is required to produce a service plan each year, including in regard to the type and volume of health and personal social services to be provided. The Minister must ensure a copy of the HSE's service plan is laid before the Oireachtas. Since the amendment may be over-prescriptive and in view of the legislative provisions already in place to ensure the Oireachtas is kept informed of developments, the Minister will not be accepting this amendment.
It is not over-prescriptive but necessary. One need only consider many other services run by the HSE to determine why. The medical card assessment system is an example. Until now, local staff have dealt with local people's applications for medical cards. I understand a central office will deal with the applications and that they will not be dealt with in the human way they have been heretofore. I am concerned that the people, particularly those in the Crisis Pregnancy Agency, who will deal with these issues will be very different in their approach and that the expertise and feeling for an issue may be lost. The level of engagement in the work of the agencies being subsumed into the Department and the HSE must be maintained. It is all very well having service plans and so on but it is vital continuity in service is maintained. The agencies were set up for a clear purpose and my concern is that they will be lost in the anonymity of the other issues being dealt with by the HSE and the Department.
I understand the Deputy's views on the great work done by the Crisis Pregnancy Agency. The agency's staff met the HSE and the Department on the agency's role and functions. This will assist the HSE in determining how the work of the agency might be integrated.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 17, lines 11 to 13, to delete subsection (2) and substitute the following:
"(2) The functions vested in the Agency by or under paragraphs (i), (ii), (v), (vi), (vii), (viii), (ix) and (x) of Article 4 of the Order are, on such commencement, transferred to the Executive.".
The legal advice regarding the functions of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency is that some of them may not be easily accommodated in the HSE's statutory framework and that the Bill should, therefore, provide for their transfer. On this basis, section 50 transfers certain functions of the agency to the HSE.
In addition to the functions transferred under the Bill, the agency also has a function to carry out research into aspects of crisis pregnancy. This was not transferred under the Bill as the HSE already has a statutory function to undertake or commission research projects on issues relating to health and personal social services. However, following legal advice and for the avoidance of doubt, this research function is also being transferred to the HSE by way of this amendment.
I am glad some thought has been put into how the agency's functions, particularly an important one such as research, will be transferred. I support the amendment.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 20, subsection (1), line 22, to delete "all powers so exercised" and substitute the following:
"all acts carried out in purported exercise of such powers".
Section 60 provides that certain powers conferred on the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government are deemed to have been exercisable by the Minister for Health and Children from 1 February 2001. The legal advice available to the Minister is that the proposed amendment is not necessary and that she does not propose to accept it.
My legal advice is that it is necessary.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 21, lines 11 and 12, to delete subsection (1) and substitute the following:
"62.—(1) Section 2 of the Health Act 2007 is amended by substituting "section 41(1)(b)” for “section 41(b)” in the definition of “register”.
(2) Section 8 of the Health Act 2007 is amended in subsection (1)(c) by
substituting "section 41(1)(a)” for “section 41(a)”.”.
Section 62 makes some technical drafting amendments to the Health Act 2007. This is a further technical amendment to correct a reference to a paragraph in the 2007 Act. Subject to legal advice, the Minister may bring forward a final technical amendment on Report Stage to the 2007 Act, specifically a correction to a reference in respect of the Health (Nursing Homes) Act 1990, Part 1, Schedule 1.
I thank everybody for their co-operation on this Bill.
As this is the first occasion that the Minister of State, Deputy Brady, is before us, I would like to welcome her and wish her a very successful and pleasant term in office.
I thank the members.
I thank members for the expeditious manner in which we have done the business today.