Department of Health responds to Healthwatch England consultation

On the 27 June 2012 the Department of Health issued its response to the public consultation on the membership regulations for Healthwatch England and published The Care Quality Commission (Healthwatch England Committee) Regulations 2012.

The consultation concerned aspects of the Department’s proposals for the regulations regarding membership, the number of members, the process for appointing and the tenure of appointment.  The consultation ran from 26 January 2012 to the 2 March 2012 and was intended to help ensure that the public have a strong national presence to represent their views and help drive up improvements across the NHS.

Key issues arising from the responses to the consultation included:

  • The need for Healthwatch England to be sufficiently diverse and representative;
  • Open and transparent appointment criteria for members;
  • The appropriateness of disqualification criteria; and
  • Local representation in Healthwatch England.

Members will be comprised of individuals with relevant knowledge or experience in the sector, ensuring that there is a diverse range of appointed persons, and only a minority of members are permitted to be from CQC itself.

Healthwatch is intended to be the new consumer champion for the health and social care sector.  It was created by the Health and Social Care Act 2012, and is being appointed as a committee of CQC, with the intention of forming a national body representing the views of service users and the public at national level.  It will exist at both local level as Healthwatch Local (to be established in April 2013) and at national level as Healthwatch England.  The Department of Health intends Healthwatch England to be established on 1 October 2012.

The purpose of Healthwatch England will be to advise the NHS commissioning Board, English local authorities, Monitor and the Secretary of State.  It will also have the power to recommend that action is taken by the CQC when there are concerns about health and social care services.

Local Healthwatch will take on the work of the Local Involvement Networks (LINks).  The aim of local Healthwatch will be to give service users, carers and the public a stronger voice to influence and challenge how health and social care services are provided within their locality on the Health and Wellbeing boards set up by local authorities, provide a complaints advisory service to support people who make a complaint about services and report concerns to Healthwatch England in relation to the quality of health care.

The establishment of these bodies will mean further levels of scrutiny for providers of healthcare services.  The public are being provided with another means of communication and, in theory, it should be easier for individuals to make complaints about services provided through the local complaints advisory services.  It is likely that CQC will be quick to react to recommendations to take action from Healthwatch England in order to demonstrate a collaborative approach.

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