Under the Health and Social Care Act, every council in England is required to commission a Healthwatch service to provide local people with information and advice about health and care services, collect feedback on their experiences and make sure decision makers hear what people are saying.
Over the last five years Healthwatch Staffordshire has successfully established a strong voice for local people in improving a variety of local services, from increasing the range of activities in care homes to ensuring concerns about cancer care have been heard by those in charge.
However, Staffordshire County Council has announced today its intention to reduce the budget for the local Healthwatch from £415,000 to £210,000 - a cut of 50%. This constitutes one of the largest ever proposed cuts to a Healthwatch service.
Staffordshire Council acknowledges the significance of this reduction and has stated that it is committed to monitoring the impact this has on delivery of services. However, there is absolutely no mention of what action the council will take should the provider not be able to meet their statutory responsibilities with the reduced resources.
The council states that they will work to “minimise any potential negative impact on its activities” should the reduced resources provided not be enough for the Healthwatch to fulfil its role, but we are clear this does not constitute an adequate contingency plan.
While it is not our role to express a preference concerning who should provide a local Healthwatch service, we are concerned that the current proposal will limit the ability of any provider to deliver the contract successfully.
Using legal powers set out in the Health and Social Care Act, we have written to Staffordshire Council calling for the authority to publicly explain how it has assessed the cost of delivering its local Healthwatch and to outline a “Plan B”, should the resources provided prove insufficient.
Jane Mordue, Healthwatch England’s Chair said:
“These short-sighted proposals would be of concern to any community, but the people of Staffordshire will be only too aware of what can happen when patients have no way of voicing concerns about local services.
“Over the last five years Healthwatch Staffordshire has been providing a first class service across the county for less than the cost of a second class stamp per person. This money has been spent on ensuring people’s views and experiences drive improvement in how local hospitals, GPs and care homes are run. However, cutting this already modest spend by more than half raises serious questions about the future effectiveness of Healthwatch in Staffordshire.
“The majority of councils have recognised the value Healthwatch brings by choosing to avoid cuts of this size as they struggle with their own financial pressures. We urge Staffordshire Council to provide realistic funding to give the people of Staffordshire the voice they need to influence the big decisions to come about how local health and care services are delivered.”