What is Healthwatch?
Healthwatch will be the new consumer champion for both health and social care. It will exist in two distinct forms – local Healthwatch, at local level, and Healthwatch England, at national level.
What is it?
- The Health and Social Care Act 2012 sets out that local Healthwatch will be established in April 2013. Until then Local Involvement Networks (LINks) will continue to operate as usual
- A local Healthwatch will be an independent organisation, able to employ its own staff and involve volunteers, so it can become the influential and effective voice of the public. It will have to keep accounts and make its annual reports available to the public
- The aim of local Healthwatch will be to give citizens and communities a stronger voice to influence and challenge how health and social care services are provided within their locality
What will it do?
- Local Healthwatch will have a seat on the new statutory health and wellbeing boards, ensuring that the views and experiences of patients, carers and other service users are taken into account when local needs assessments and strategies are prepared, such as the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) and the authorisation of Clinical Commissioning Groups. This will ensure that local Healthwatch has a role in promoting public health, health improvements and in tackling health inequalities
- Local Healthwatch will enable people to share their views and concerns about their local health and social care services and understand that their contribution will help build a picture of where services are doing well and where they can be improved
- Local Healthwatch will be able to alert Healthwatch England to concerns about specific care providers
- Local Healthwatch will provide people with information about their choices and what to do when things go wrong; this includes either signposting people to the relevant provider, or itself providing (if commissioned by the local authority), support to individuals who want to complain about NHS services
- Local Healthwatch will provide, or signpost people to, information about local health and care services and how to access them
- Local Healthwatch will provide authoritative, evidence-based feedback to organisations responsible for commissioning or delivering local health and social care services
- Local Healthwatch can help and support Clinical Commissioning Groups to make sure that services really are designed to meet citizens’ needs
- Local Healthwatch will have to be inclusive and reflect the diversity of the community it serves. There is an explicit requirement in the Health & Social Care Act that the way in which a local Healthwatch exercises its functions must be representative of local people and different users of services, including carers.
Local Healthwatch and Local Involvement Networks (LINks)
- Local Healthwatch will carry forward the functions of LINks and will have additional functions and powers
- Local Healthwatch will build on the good practice of LINks, establishing relationships with local authorities, Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), patient representative groups, the local voluntary and community sector and service providers to ensure it is inclusive and truly representative of the community it serves
- In March 2011, the Department of Health (DH) published the HealthWatch Transition Plan, the first of a series of documents for local authorities and LINks which has been followed by ‘A strong voice for people: local Healthwatch – the policy explained’. Both documents can be found on the DH website
- Existing LINks are being supported to build their skills and maintain momentum through Learning Sets, run by Regional Voices in a consortium with other DH Strategic Partners – which will identify and share best practice to help all LINks
Local Healthwatch pathfinders
- In August 2011, the Department of Health announced that 75 Healthwatch pathfinders have been selected to test different approaches to the proposed local Healthwatch functions. These are partnerships of local authorities, LINks and other relevant organisations. They have been exploring how best to champion patients’ views and experiences, promote the integration of local services and improve choice for patients through advice and access to information.
- Regional Voices, the LGA and NHS Institute have worked in a tripartite partnership to extract and share the learning. The LGA published ‘Building successful Healthwatch organisations’ which outlines 15 case studies, and a summary report of this, the snap surveys and the national workshop held on 25th April will be published in May/June.
The role of local authorities
- Local Healthwatch will be funded by local authorities and held to account by them for their ability to operate effectively and be value for money
- The Health and Social Care Act 2012 states that local authorities will have a local Healthwatch organisation in their area from April 2013, but will have the flexibility to choose how they commission it to achieve best value for money for their communities
- It is expected that local authorities will work in partnership with their existing LINk, voluntary groups, and other community organisations, when designing their approach to commissioning local Healthwatch
- In addition, the Health and Social Care Act 2012 sets out that local authorities will have to provide an advocacy service to people who wish to make a complaint about their experience of the local NHS from April 2013. Local authorities will have the responsibility to commission the service from any provider including local Healthwatch
What is it?
- The Health and Social Care Act 2012 sets out that Healthwatch England will be established in October 2012
- Healthwatch England will be a national body that enables the collective views of the people who use NHS and social care services to influence national policy, advice and guidance
- It will be a statutory committee of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) with a Chair who will be a non-executive director of the CQC
- Healthwatch England will have its own identity within the CQC, but be able to use the CQC’s expertise and infrastructure
- Healthwatch England will be funded as part of the Department of Health’s grant in aid to the CQC
What will it do?
- Healthwatch England will provide leadership, guidance and support to local Healthwatch organisations
- Healthwatch England will provide advice to the Secretary of State, NHS Commissioning Board, Monitor and the English local authorities and they must have regard to that advice
- Healthwatch England will be able to escalate concerns about health and social care services raised by local Healthwatch to the CQC
- There will be a requirement for the CQC to respond to advice from Healthwatch England
- Healthwatch England will have a strong principle of continuous dialogue with local Healthwatch, keeping communication lines open and transparent. This will facilitate Healthwatch England’s responsibility to provide national leadership and support
- The Secretary of State for Health will be required to consult Healthwatch England on the mandate for the NHS Commissioning Board
- Healthwatch England will be required to make an annual report to Parliament
The latest information on Healthwatch England can be found on the DH website
Healthwatch engagement and communication
- The Healthwatch Programme board provides strategic oversight and ensures readiness for the launch of both local Healthwatch and Healthwatch England. This board is chaired by John Wilderspin, National Director for Health and Wellbeing Board implementation. It has wide stakeholder membership, and a ‘new’ virtual reference group (which has replaced the advisory group) to support it . The minutes from the Board meetings are available on the DH and CQC website and LINks Exchange
- The CQC has set up an online community for anyone who is interested in Healthwatch to feed in their views (registration is via HealthWatch@nunwood.com). Views gathered from the online community will inform the Healthwatch programme board and its advisory group
- The Healthwatch team hold regular Q&A sessions through the Knowledge Hub, an online platform for users to share learning and resources. The latest discussions can be found in the Healthwatch forum (note you will need to register to view)
Regulations for Healthwatch England and local Healthwatch
- There will be regulations laid on the membership of Healthwatch England in June to support its establishment on 1st October 2012
- There will also be regulations laid on a number of areas for local Healthwatch in October 2012. If you wish to participate in the engagement of the issues relating to local Healthwatch regulations, please email Healthwatch@dh.gsi.gov.uk
- Updates on Healthwatch developments can be found on the DH website, Knowledge Hub, LINks Exchange and the CQC website