When Healthwatch England and the Healthwatch network were set up, as part of the Health and Social Care Act in 2012, the government set out the criteria to for local Healthwatch to be contracted by local authorities to carry out activities relating to patient and public involvement in health and social care services.
This was known as Statutory Instruments 2012 No, 3094 "The NHS Bodies and Local Authorities (Partnership Arrangements, Care Trusts, Public Health and Local Healthwatch) Regulations 2012. Part 6 Local Healthwatch". Since publication, the Local Government Association and the Department of Health has published Local Healthwatch Regulations that aims to provide explain the regulations in less technical terms.
We are keen to share a number of issues relating to the local Healthwatch regulations.
In relation to the section covering political campaigning, our view is that section 36(2) ensures local Healthwatch has the necessary freedom to undertake campaigning and policy work related to its core activities and believe to do otherwise would be distracting. We do however, appreciate how there could be some confusion due to the nature of the wording in the section.
We propose to clarify any confusion by working with the Department of Health and the Local Government Association to produce guidance for local Healthwatch and local authorities to assist them to correctly interpret the regulations.
In relation to the section covering the criteria concerning social enterprise (Section 35), we feel that the recommendation to put no less than 50% of distributable profits being back into the activities of local Healthwatch should be higher.
Finally, we believe there are omissions in the regulations in relation to the duty on service providers to respond to requests for information from local Healthwatch.
Had Healthwatch England been in existence at the time of drafting, we would have highlighted to the Department that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are only likely to be used as a last resort, potentially where the service provider is not willing to collaborate with the local Healthwatch.
Healthwatch England believes that reliance on the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which is an intensely administrative process, to get information from private providers that are in receipt of public funds may prove problematic.
Healthwatch England recommends that the above concerns be resolved in future statutory instruments.