The mantra for this new coalition Government has been patient/public involvement – the opportunity for public involvement is central to the new health reform plans. One of the means of securing this is through the proposed Healthwatch England committee which will be a statutory committee of the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
The Healthwatch England committee will represent the views of the users of health and social care, other members of the public and Local Healthwatch organisations. They will achieve this by providing this advice and information to the Secretary of State, the Commissioning Board, Monitor and English local authorities who must in turn provide Healthwatch England committee in writing with its response or proposed response to the advice. Although the Bill states that the Healthwatch England committee may provide the CQC with advice on the views of service users of health and social care services, in reality we would expect this to be provided to the CQC at the same time as it is given to other organisations.
The obligations placed on this statutory committee extends to the requirement that it makes an annual report (whether or not in writing) to the CQC on the information gleaned from users of the service or from local Healthwatch organisations and must also publish a report on the way that it exercised its functions during the year.
Part 14 of the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 is to be amended with the inclusion of a new Clause 220A. This new clause provides for public involvement at the local level through Local Healthwatch organisations. The Local Healthwatch is the local source of information to the CQC – from providing advice about access to local care services and choices to making recommendations about special reviews or investigations.
In addition each local authority must make arrangements for the provision of independent advocacy services to assist service users or others wishing to make a complaint. Local Healthwatch may undertake this service themselves or may arrange for the provision from others.