OXFORDSHIRE county councillors could have some of their powers taken away from them following the passage of the new Health and Care Act.

The act, which received Royal Assent by the Queen at the end of April, makes substantial changes to the organisation of health and care functions across England.

The government said the act will introduce measures to tackle the COVID-19 backlogs and rebuild health and social care services from the pandemic.

Current legislation allows local authorities like the county council to review and scrutinise any matter relating to the planning, provision and operation of the health service in its area.

One of the most controversial elements of the act is the granting of significant discretion to the Secretary of State for Health to intervene in the operation of local health and care services.



The power held by the council to refer matters to the health secretary is being removed and replaced by an obligation on the secretary to “consult”.

Where before the secretary was only able to intervene after the referral from a local authority, the original provisions of the bill were that they would be able to do so unilaterally.

Councillor Jane Hanna, who chairs the council's health scrutiny committee, said: “The maintenance of the scrutiny function is so essential for the actual success of the whole reform project.

“If the power of scrutiny is diminished through this then it’s a real problem in terms of the success of integrated health and care.”

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Councillor Nathan Ley said: "With the changes likely to brought about through the act, I'm concerned that one of our most potent tools, the ability to escalate matters to the Secretary of State for Health when we have concerns over substantial variations to services, looks like being severely restricted.

“This doesn't bode well for our ability to properly scrutinise healthcare changes across the county in the future, and I hope that in practice this doesn't amount to a power grab by central government.”

Councillor Paul Barrow said: “Given the limited powers that we have, I feel this remains one of the few tools that we have to re-elaborate and has the potential to make change – so its removal is quite worrying I think.”

Helen Mitchell, scrutiny officer at the council, said: “It’s still very much early days and there are more things we don’t know than we do know at this stage.

“The power of referral is going to go and it’s going to be replaced by something that we are not quite clear how it will work just yet.”

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