On 18 December 2020, the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport Committee published its stage 1 report on the Liability for NHS Charges (Treatment of Industrial Disease) (Scotland) Bill. If enacted, this member’s bill would allow recovery by the state of charges incurred by the health service in the provision of treatment to pursuers with industrial disease but only where the cause of action arises after commencement of the new law. A link to the committee’s report is here. A link to the bill as introduced is here. The next stage for this bill is for the Scottish Parliament to debate and vote on the general principles of it before 15 January 2021. If the bill passes that vote it will move to stage 2 of the 3 stage legislative process. Amendment is possible at both stages 2 and 3. This legislation will have to pass all three stages before dissolution of the current session of the Scottish Parliament ahead of a 6 May 2021 election or it will fall.
In this blog we summarise the main points of the committee’s stage 1 report:
Overall: a cautious and caveated welcome
The committee supports the general aims of the bill “to reduce industrial diseases and compensate victims”. It is perhaps worth noting that the bill is not at all concerned with compensating victims. However, the committee “has concerns in relation to the scheme proposed for collection and consider there remains a need for further detailed costings before the bill can be passed.”
Identifying industrial diseases, with mention of COVID-19
The committee takes the view that any future COVID-19-related illness and mental health illnesses would be covered by the bill’s definition of “industrial disease”.
The committee also “notes the evidence in relation to the complexities involved in identifying industrial diseases, particularly in relation to co-morbid cases and have concerns this could result in unintended consequences.” The complexities arising in many industrial disease cases formed a central part of our response to the committee’s prior call for views on the bill.
Operation of the scheme
The committee notes the Department for Work and Pensions’ position that an impact assessment would have to be undertaken before any decision could be made regarding its role in administering the scheme. It also “shares the views of the (Scottish Government) Minister that this aspect of the bill needs to be clarified in order to understand more fully the costs associated with the bill.” Noting their “concerns in comparing the costs of the proposed scheme with the existing scheme (for accident-related NHS charges)”, the committee “expect the Scottish Government and the Member in Charge (of the bill) to work together to obtain more robust information with regard to the financial implications of the bill.”
While the committee has not flagged any of the bill’s particular provisions as requiring amendment, it is clear that it considers further work necessary on the financial and practical implications of the bill. It remains to be seen whether this work will be possible within the relevant timescale, whether sufficient parliamentary time will be available for this bill before dissolution of the parliament in spring 2021, and, of course, whether there is sufficient support among MSPs for the bill. If the bill does fall for want of parliamentary time then it may be re-introduced as a government bill to the next session or as a member’s bill if the same or a different member obtains permission for introduction.