Closing the door on the LINk….

We are one week into the world of Local Healthwatch, so it seems like a good time to pause and reflect …

Last month I was invited to talk at a Westminster Briefing in London about the lessons that I had learned working for a rural LINk. It was a fab way to spend what was officially my last day working for the LINk – and it gave me the chance to give my views to a delightful and interested audience while knowing that the chance of getting myself fired was very slim indeed. (You can read a summary of my talk which has been published today on the Westminster Briefing website.)

I came up with seven lessons that we’d learnt as a rural LINk:

  1. The scale of the work is enormous:
    Over £1 billion of public money is spent on health and social care every year in Somerset.
  2. Demands placed on volunteers are huge:
    Are we really expecting volunteers to thoroughly and effectively monitor and scrutinise over £1 billion in services every year?
  3. Lay people need lay language:
    Believe me, patients have no interest in your authorisation pipeline.
  4. There is not a ready-made PPI army out there:
    There are a few amazing people who are able and willing to commit their time and talents to involvement and scrutiny work. But there are not armies of them. Yes, the hedgehog sanctuary has lots of volunteers – but health scrutiny is not cute and fun. We need more honesty about this.
  5. Third sector organisations lack resources to get involved:
    Third sector organisations have knowledge, grass roots awareness and an understanding of what is happening on the ground. But it is not easy for them to just ‘brain dump’ onto LINks or Local Healthwatch. This requires resources – and charities are struggling just to stay afloat with their own core business. They don’t have the time or staff to do anyone else’s work for free.
  6. The public want a professional service:
    There are very few volunteers will are willing to project manage, collect data, analyse complex information, manage volunteers and have an oversight of health and social care – and all for free. This all needs proper resourcing.
  7. Funding mustn’t be a dark art:
    Funding for LINks – and for Healthwatch – is not ring-fenced. Funding of around 50% of the allocation was not uncommon for LINks, and similar levels of funding have already been seen to be happening to some Local Healthwatch bodies as well. However, the organisations that understand the funding allocations are often those who are the recipients of the contracts – and are therefore in a jolly tricky position when it comes to challenging funding decisions. But while local authorities are being squeezed to the point where they may be unable to provide the services that Healthwatch bodies are supposed to scrutinise, this funding issue is going to be enormously difficult to resolve.

Another article was published today about Local Healthwatch that I also enjoyed reading: Patient Voice? by Martin Rathfield of the Socialiast Health Association. Of Local Healthwatch, Martin concludes:

Each successive iteration of the PPI structure ends up more timid than the one before it, and this appears to be the going down the same road.

His article is well worth a read, particularly for his observations about Foundation Trust scrutiny and the role of Governors.

So, today’s bedtime reading:

All comments welcome!

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