The Francis Report and LINks/Healthwatch

The “Report of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry chaired by Robert Francis” – aka ‘the Francis Report’ – was published last week.

If you work in health, or patient involvement, then you must at the very least read the Executive Summary. It is very readable and concise and I’d recommend you print off a copy for bedtime reading and scribble on it.

I’m publishing on this blog the particular points that I think that LINks/Healthwatches need to read, digest, ponder and respond to. I think they are really important (and in fact, I’ve copied these paragraphs and put them in our LINk Legacy Document to be passed on to Healthwatch Somerset).

N.B. For the full chapter looking at patient involvement, you need to read Chapter 6 of Volume 1 of the full report.

Extracts from The Executive Summary:

The voice of the local community

  • 1.17 It is a significant part of the Stafford story that patients and relatives felt excluded from effective participation in the patients’ care. The concept of patient and public involvement in health service provision starts and should be at its most effective at the front line.
  • 1.18 Analysis of the patient surveys of the Trust conducted by the HCC and the Picker Institute shows that they contained disturbing indicators that all was not well from long before the intervention of the HCC.
  • 1.19 Community Health Councils (CHCs) were almost invariably compared favourably in the evidence with the structures which succeeded them. It is now quite clear that what replaced them, two attempts at reorganisation in 10 years, failed to produce an improved voice for patients and the public, but achieved the opposite. The relatively representative and professional nature of CHCs was replaced by a system of small, virtually self-selected volunteer groups which were free to represent their own views without having to harvest and communicate the views of others. Neither of the systems which followed was likely to develop the means or the authority to provide an effective channel of communication through which the healthcare system could benefit from the enormous resource of patient and public experience waiting to be exploited.
  • 1.20 Patient and Public Involvement Forums (PPIFs) relied on a variably effective, locally provided infrastructure. The system gave rise to an inherent conflict between the host, which was intended to provide a support service but in practice was required to lead with proposals and initiatives offered to lay members, and members of the forum, who were likely to have no prior relevant experience and to be qualified only by reason of previous contact with the hospital to be scrutinised.
  • 1.21 In the case of the Trust’s PPIF, the evidence shows quite clearly the failure of this form of patient and public involvement to achieve anything but mutual acrimony between members and between members and the host. A preoccupation with constitutional and procedural matters and a degree of diffidence towards the Trust prevented much progress.
  • 1.22 If anything, local Involvement Networks (LINks) were an even greater failure. The, albeit unrealised, potential for consistency represented by the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health (CPPIH) was removed, leaving each local authority to devise its own working arrangements. Not surprisingly, in Stafford the squabbling that had been such a feature of the previous system continued and no constructive work was achieved at all.
  • 1.23 Thus, the public of Stafford were left with no effective voice – other than CURE – throughout the worst crisis any district general hospital in the NHS can ever have known.
  • 1.24 Under the new reforms, local healthwatch is intended to be the local consumer voice with a key role in influencing local commissioning decisions through representation on the local Health and Well-being Board. They will be expected to build on existing LINks functions. The responsibility for establishing Local Healthwatch will rest with the local authorities in the same way as it had for LINks. As is the position with LINks, the DH does not intend to prescribe an operational model, leaving this to local discretion. It does not prejudice local involvement in
  • the development and maintenance of the local healthcare system for there to be consistency throughout the country in the basic structure of the organisation designed to promote and provide the channel for local involvement. Without such a framework, there is a danger of repetition of the arguments which so debilitated Staffordshire LINks.
  • 1.25 The local authority scrutiny committees did not detect or appreciate the significance of any signs suggesting serious deficiencies at the Trust. The evidence before the Inquiry exposed a number of weaknesses in the concept of scrutiny, which may mean that it will be an unreliable detector of concerns, however capable and conscientious committee members may be.
  • 1.26 Local MPs received feedback and concerns about the Trust. However, these were largely just passed on to others without follow up or analysis of their cumulative implications. MPs are accountable to their electorate, but they are not necessarily experts in healthcare and are certainly not regulators. They might wish to consider how to increase their sensitivity with regard to the detection of local problems in healthcare.
  • 1.27 There are a wide range of routes through which patients and the public can feed comments into health services and hold them to account. However, in the case of Stafford, these routes have been largely ineffective and received little support or guidance.
  • 1.28 Local opinion is not most effectively collected, analysed and deployed by untrained members of the public without professional resources available to them, but the means used should always be informed by the needs of the public and patients. Most areas will have many health interest groups with a wealth of experience and expertise available to them, and it is necessary that any body seeking to collect and deploy local opinion should avail itself of, but not be led by, what groups offer.

Extract from the Table of Recommendations:

  • Patient, public and local scrutiny
    145 Structure of Local Healthwatch There should be a consistent basic structure for Local Healthwatch throughout the country, in accordance with the principles set out in Chapter 6: Patient and public local involvement and scrutiny.
  • 146 Finance and oversight of Local Healthwatch
    Local authorities should be required to pass over the centrally provided funds allocated to its Local Healthwatch, while requiring the latter to account to it for its stewardship of the money. Transparent respect for the independence of Local Healthwatch should not be allowed to inhibit a responsible local authority – or Healthwatch England as appropriate – intervening.
  • 147 Coordination of local public scrutiny bodies
    Guidance should be given to promote the coordination and cooperation between Local Healthwatch, Health and Wellbeing Boards, and local government scrutiny committees.
  • 148 Training
    The complexities of the health service are such that proper training must be available to the leadership of Local Healthwatch as well as, when the occasion arises, expert advice.
  • 149 Expert assistance
    Scrutiny committees should be provided with appropriate support to enable them to carry out their scrutiny role, including easily accessible guidance and benchmarks.
  • 150 Inspection powers
    Scrutiny committees should have powers to inspect providers, rather than relying on local patient involvement structures to carry out this role, or should actively work with those structures to trigger and follow up inspections where appropriate, rather than receiving reports without comment or suggestions for action.
  • 151 Complaints to MPs
    MPs are advised to consider adopting some simple system for identifying trends in the complaints and information they received from constituents. They should also consider whether individual complaints imply concerns of wider significance than the impact on one individual patient.

Other useful links:

What to do with this data:

  • Read it and digest it.
  • Circulate it to your LINk volunteers and colleagues.
  • Consider how you will respond to the recommendations and lessons learned.
  • Ask your local CCG and providers how they are responding to the recommendations.
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