Head of Insight
Staffordshire County Council
6 May 2016
Health and Care Consultation: Your Local Healthwatch in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent
I am writing to you on behalf of the Board of Engaging Communities Staffordshire and in response to your current consultation on the local Healthwatch in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent.
Whilst it would not be appropriate for us as the current providers of Healthwatch Staffordshire to comment on the effectiveness of the current service, we felt we should offer you our opinion on the questions you pose on the future for local Healthwatch.
Our experience in providing Healthwatch Staffordshire over the past three years is that there is considerable duplication of effort and cross-over between the local Healthwatch for Staffordshire and for Stoke-on-Trent. The two services have throughout this period worked hard to collaborate, to support each other and to work together – examples of this include joint work on the transition of services from the dissolution of Mid-Staffs, a joint GP access project, and agreements to represent each other on various committees and Boards.
However, it is also true that there have been many occasions when we have both been at the same meetings, making very similar representations on behalf of the populations we serve, and posing similar challenges to providers and commissioners of services about how these need to be improved to support patients and service users.
We also recognise that this is a time of budget constraint. Both local Healthwatch have this year suffered a 10% cut in funding, and we are realistic enough to understand that there may be future cuts, let alone any inflationary increase in funding. It is therefore very important that limited resources are maximised, and our opinion is that having one local Healthwatch for Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, but with local delivery in both the county and the city, is the best way forward. This view is strengthened by the recent announcements by the NHS about area-based planning leading to the formation of the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Sustainable Transformation Programme. This programme signals potentially radical change in the way in which services are delivered for our local populations, and it will be vital that there is a strong, robust and evidence-based Healthwatch voice representing the public interest and ensuring that there is appropriate public engagement in the process. A unified Healthwatch service, but with strong governance arrangements in the city and the county, would help to bring this about.
Finally, on the issue of whether NHS Complaints Advocacy should also sit with the local Healthwatch service. As you are aware, we have brought this service in house since February 2015, since when we have seen a near threefold rise in the number of people using the service, as well as extremely high user satisfaction. We have also seen many examples where we have used our position as both Healthwatch and advocacy provider to support clients above and beyond their complaint, and to bring about system and service change. We are therefore very strongly of the opinion that Healthwatch and Complaints Advocacy should sit together.
I hope these views are of help, and look forward to hearing the outcome of your consultation,
On behalf of the ECS Board