Listening to what patients have to say and learning from their experiences is vital to creating a health and social care service that is both sustainable and gives people what they want. Yet it is in precisely the areas facing the biggest challenges, and perhaps the most radical changes as a result, where investment in patient engagement is being squeezed the most.
Compared to the overall health and social care spend of more than £120 billion, the Healthwatch network this year received a modest investment of just 60p per head to make sure people’s views are listened to and their experiences are used to influence decisions.
Health and social care services face difficult questions on where to invest to improve services so patients receive better quality and more efficient care. To find answers that work for people, patient experience needs to be at the core.
A survey of local Healthwatch indicates that in some areas, investment in patient engagement is being cut by up to half. Worryingly, the local Healthwatch being hit by the latest round of cuts cover a third of the country’s troubled health economies and half of hospitals in special measures, arguably those most in need of sustained investment. This situation could leave patients without a strong voice in big changes to local health and social care services.
We understand the need for efficiency, which we support by providing advice, guidance and training to local Healthwatch centrally. We also recognise the financial difficulties these councils are facing. Investing in listening to health and social care consumers is a small price to pay for better services.
We are therefore using our statutory powers and writing to the areas facing the largest cuts asking them to explain their contingency plans to ensure investment in public engagement will be maintained.
Whilst it is positive that more than two thirds of local authorities have decided to maintain funding levels, we need assurance from the remaining third that their local Healthwatch will be adequately funded so the public has a strong voice in local decision making about the future of health and social care.
Our chair, Anna Bradley, said:
“On average local Healthwatch across the country receive less than the cost of a single first class stamp per person to spend on ensuring the views, experiences and needs of the public drive change in how services are delivered.
“So to see even this modest amount being cut by up to 50 per cent in some areas raises serious questions and will undoubtedly impact on the effectiveness of local Healthwatch.
“We recognise that local authorities are having to cope with their own cuts but the majority of councils have recognised the value local Healthwatch bring and have managed to maintain investment.
“We urge those councils that have decided to impose such severe cuts to outline why they have made this decision and how they will ensure public are provided with the voice they need to influence the big decisions around how local health and care services are delivered.”