Scottish Parliamentary Committee hears further evidence on extending recovery of NHS charges to disease claims

On 10 November 2020 the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee heard further evidence on the Liability for NHS Charges (Industrial Disease) (Scotland) Bill, taking evidence from the Scottish Government Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing, Joe Fitzpatrick MSP and Stuart McMillan MSP.

Mr Fitzpatrick explained that the Scottish Government “need to make sure that the scheme is not a drain on resources” and that further evidence is needed on the anticipated level of revenue and costs of the scheme. He acknowledged that obtaining further information is likely to be “especially difficult given the pressures that we are all facing”. The Minister emphasized his reluctance for the Scottish Government health directorate to be involved at present making the point that this directorate has “already had to put aside a number of priorities to respond to the virus.”

The Scottish Government has written to the Compensation Recovery Unit (CRU) of the UK Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to determine their willingness to administer the scheme on behalf of Scottish Ministers should it be implemented. A response is awaited. The Scottish Government has not specifically asked CRU/DWP about any additional costs which they may wish to charge for administering the scheme over and above the current annual payment of £215,600 which is paid for their current administration of the accident-related NHS charges regime in Scottish cases.

During the questioning of Mr McMillan, committee members referred both to supplementary evidence provided by FSCM and to points made by BLM in response to the committee’s call for views. The FSCM supplementary evidence was a speculative cost benefit analysis which raised the possibility of a £0.5m shortfall from the scheme over the first twelve years of its operation. The BLM points referenced were on the complexities of disease cases and a likely consequent greater proportion of requests for reviews and appeals against NHS charges certificates in industrial disease cases than in accident-related cases. Mr McMillan acknowledged the complexities of disease cases but considered that “after a period of time, the scheme will introduce additional finances to NHS Scotland”.

Mr McMillan acknowledged that the scheme would likely mean higher insurance premiums for businesses in Scotland compared to those in the rest of the UK. Nonetheless, he thought that this would only be a short-term situation because, in his analysis, the scheme will encourage businesses to take further precautions over time, ultimately making Scotland the “safest part of the UK” which would mean lower insurance premiums in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK.

Mr McMillan’s position on publicity for the law change was that this should primarily be carried out by Scottish Government by way of a media campaign.

The Scottish Government is “sympathetic to the intentions of the Bill” but, overall, Willie Rennie MSP’s observation that he was “not detecting a great deal of enthusiasm from the Minister” for the Bill is a fair summary of the government position at this stage.

The Health and Sport Committee will now consider and discuss in private the evidence taken, responses received and the Bill documentation then produce a report before the Scottish Parliament will debate, and vote on, the general principles of the Bill at stage 1 before 15 January 2021.  

Written by Lorna Ferguson, Partner

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