Health and wellbeing boards – one year to go

Shadow health and wellbeing boards have one year to go until they are fully established. This article explores what this means for boards and how they will be supported to succeed.

Since April 2011, leaders of the local health and care system have been building new relationships and starting to work together as members of emerging health and wellbeing boards, which are now officially in shadow form.

Clinical commissioning groups of GPs, councillors, social care, public health, children’s services and local Healthwatch form the core of boards, with a common purpose to drive improved services and outcomes for across the life course. Health and wellbeing boards will also need to work with partners including public sector and voluntary and community organisations, to tackle the wider factors that influence health.

The National Learning Network for health and wellbeing boards was established to support health and wellbeing board members to develop knowledge and behaviours that will enable them to work effectively to deliver their shared purpose.

David Behan, Director General for Social Care, Partnerships and Local Government at the Department of Health says “this new dynamic, one of empowered local leaders and communities, supported by national organisations that will champion localism and respect locally-determined priorities, will help achieve a universal ambition – improved population health and reduced health inequalities across all ages and starting in early childhood.”

To find out more about health and wellbeing boards, read the short guide

Shadow form – what does it mean?

The Health and Social Care Act has now passed into law, giving real clarity and certainty about the future direction. In his transition letter, David Nicholson says:

“The onus now switches to the health and care system and the important and challenging task of implementing changes on the ground. We must keep focused on the overall purpose of the changes we are making – to deliver great outcomes for our patients. This is our overriding goal and we must work together over the next year to build a system that can continue to deliver it.”

Over the next year, shadow boards will continue to work towards readiness for their statutory responsibility – undertaking Joint Strategic Needs Assessments and Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategies as the foundation for 2013-14 commissioning plans, but also looking at how they can take joint action now, ahead of 2013, for example on bringing together services through joint commissioning.

To get to this stage of readiness, there is still work to do. John Wilderspin, National Director for Health and Wellbeing Board Implementation reflects on the work he’s seen taking place nationally:

“I have the privilege of observing many boards as they think through their development. The more I see, the clearer I am about what will make the difference between success and mediocrity. The first is a clear sense of ambition; a shared aspiration amongst local partners about what they want fundamentally to transform in their area, not just improve incrementally.

“The second prerequisite for success is strong relationships. These enable constructive challenge and disagreement on some issues, but also enable people to work together towards a common goal. This is a difficult balance to strike, and the underlying theme of work taking place nationally is ‘this is not an easy job, and we need to work together to share learning and sharpen our thinking’.”

Here are some examples of what boards around the country are up to:

Sandwell Health and Wellbeing Board – one year to go case study

Leicestershire Health and Wellbeing Board’s website

Newcastle’s Wellbeing for Life website

London Health and Wellbeing Board Network

If you have a case study to share, please email

What next?

Over the next year, to support the development of boards, the National Learning Network for health and wellbeing boards will continue to generate and share knowledge in the following ways:

Staying in touch

Find the latest health and wellbeing board news here

To find out more about the National Learning Network for health and wellbeing boards, please join the group on the Knowledge Hub

If you have any queries about health and wellbeing boards or would like to submit a case study, please email

In Case studies, Health and wellbeing boards, Healthwatch, Local government, Pathfinder Learning Network, Social care

2 Responses to Health and wellbeing boards – one year to go

  1. Susan Sulis, Secretary, Community Care Protection Group says:

    My local Health and Wellbeing Board (Bromley) holds its meetings in secret, and its agendas and papers are confidential. It is taking decisions on strategy, policy and services, but the public are not allowed to know, despite the Government’s promises on greater transparency, and ‘no decisions about us without us’. It seems we are going backward to the old days of secrecy, and this is very disappointing, and completely unacceptable. Is this the new ‘localism’? Members of LINK who attend are unable to reveal what is happening, and are effectively ‘neutered’.

    Is this how the new systems are meant to operate? Who is the person we can address our complaints to?

  2. Kathy Smethurst says:

    Thanks for your comment Susan.

    At present health and wellbeing boards have not been formally established as the relevant provisions of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 (the 2012 Act) are not yet in force. We intend to bring those provisions into force from April 2013.

    However, in many areas local authorities have established shadow health and wellbeing boards to prepare for establishment. As these boards ready themselves to be fully fledged from April 2013, they are testing new ways of working together and so may not be operating as statutory health and wellbeing boards would do.

    When the relevant provisions of the 2012 Act are commenced in April 2013 – and boards are established on a statutory footing – they will be expected to behave as a committee of the local authority and deliver on the legislative requirements that apply such as opening meetings to the public (subject to any exclusions that might apply) and making papers available.

    Some shadow health and wellbeing boards are already holding open meetings and publishing minutes. However, this practice is currently a matter of decision for shadow boards and the local authority of which they are a part.

    From April 2013, boards will be under a statutory duty to involve local people in the preparation of Joint Strategic Needs Assessments and the development of joint health and wellbeing strategies. Boards will also be accountable to local people through the membership of local councillors and local healthwatch. If boards do not deliver on statutory requirements, members of the public will be able to raise this with their elected councillor or local healthwatch organisation.

    Kathy Smethurst
    Health and Wellbeing Board Implementation team
    Department of Health