NAVCA’s six point test for local Healthwatch
NAVCA has issued a six point test for local Healthwatch to make sure they are genuine grassroots bodies. To pass the six point test, the Government needs to amend the Health and Social Care Bill so that local Healthwatch organisations are not ‘statutory bodies’, which would create over 150 new local quangos. The tests include making sure local authorities take an intelligent, strategic approach to commissioning local Healthwatch, to give a strong voice to patients and local communities and to build on the current good work undertaken by LINks.
NAVCA has published the six point test as the Health and Social Care Bill is going through the House of Lords. There have been suggestions that the new bodies will lack teeth if they are not statutory. NAVCA rejects that view and is clear that there is no need for local Healthwatch to be statutory bodies - they can still have statutory powers. NAVCA believes that a network of vibrant community led organisations, answerable to local people, will have far more bite than over 150 unaccountable quangos.
NAVCA’s six point test also focuses on the commissioning process for establishing local Healthwatch. The legislation, subsequent regulations and guidance should make clear that it is inappropriate for local authorities to go out to open competitive tender on short term contracts for local Healthwatch. This is because local Healthwatch needs to be embedded in local communities. It takes time to develop wide and inclusive patient and public involvement and this would be jeopardised by short term contractual arrangements, which are also bureaucratic and wasteful. Using rolling grant funding agreements would avoid this. They need only terminated in the event that local Healthwatch is ineffective or in breach of its obligations to the local community.
NAVCA’s test requires clear guidance on commissioning local Healthwatch, involving early and wide engagement with local stakeholders, including LINks, host organisations, the voluntary and community sector, patients, service users and local communities.
Katy Wing, NAVCA’s Director, Improving Local Services and a member of the Healthwatch Programme Board said:
“By applying the six point test for local Healthwatch, the Government can be confident of creating successful, genuine grassroots bodies. To pass the test the legislation needs an amendment that will mean local Healthwatch organisations are not statutory bodies. Creating local Healthwatch as statutory bodies would make them creatures of the state - and we don’t want over 150 new local quangos.
Local Healthwatch needs statutory powers, so that they have teeth, but they also need enough independence from government to be led by local communities and accountable principally to them. Applying our tests would ensure local authorities commission local Healthwatch in a way which gives patients and the public a strong voice”.
NAVCA’s six point test for the legislation, regulations and guidance to ensure local Healthwatch organisations are strong, independent and genuinely grassroots.
- Does the legislation enable the creation of powerful, grassroots organisations accountable first and foremost to local communities? Or does it create over 150 local quangos accountable primarily to local government or HealthwatchEngland?
- Is there clear guidance for local authorities on how to go about commissioning local Healthwatch, that involves early and wide engagement with local stakeholders, including LINks, host organisations, the voluntary and community sector, patients, service users and local communities?
- Will it be made clear that open competitive tendering on short term contracts is inappropriate for local Healthwatch? You cannot simply ‘buy’ a local democratic mandate.
- Will local authorities be able to maintain ‘host’ arrangements, where these are working well?
- Will local Healthwatch be able to act independently and effectively challenge the local authority, NHS bodies, commissioners and providers of health and social care services?
- Do the new arrangements recognise the achievements of existing LINks and support a transition to ensure we build on what has worked well?