One of the great things about the Coalition’s Health and Social Care Bill now going through Parliament is the creation of Health & Wellbeing Boards (HWBs). They are intended to provide a practical link from the local NHS to the community, something that is lacking in the current centralised NHS structure.
HWBs are the outcome of a listening exercise the Government undertook last year. The Coalition amended its plans to take into account the views of elected members of local authorities and interest groups but also the doctors who were forming clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), local authority directors and directors of public health.
They told the Government:
- If the reforms are genuinely about shaping services around the needs of individuals and communities, then service users and the public must have real influence when big decisions are made;
- Local Healthwatchmust have seat on each board, but that’s not enough; public engagement needs to be embedded in the way the board operates; and
- Boards will be making some contentious decisions. If the public are to accept these decisions, they need to feel that decision makers have listened to their views.
The Coalition believes these boards need to have new and different people involved, with fresh ideas and the ability to challenge the status quo. If the public and service users are thoughtfully engaged in the way the boards operate, they will bring a freshness that will help keep the boards on their toes.
HWBs will be able to support the development of local Healthwatch. These are something else new in the Bill and will replace Local Involvement Networks (LINks) so that people have a single point of contact. Healthwatch will be created at the same time as HWBs, will have a representative on HWBs and will be commissioned by local authorities who are also leading the development of boards.
So in parallel with the establishment of HWBs, many local authorities are giving thinking of how best to develop local Healthwatch, either on their own or by working with others.
These are just some of the ways the Government is trying to make the NHS more accountable to the public and listen to those serving in the NHS.