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Healthwatch explained in 500 words

What is it?

A new consumer champion for both health and social care in England aimed at gathering and representing the views of the public. The Health and Social Care Act 2012 paved the way for local Healthwatch – a network independent organisations funded and held to account by local authorities which will replace Local Involvement Networks (LINks) from April 2013.

Local Healthwatch will report to Healthwatch England, a national body located in the Care Quality Commission and funded by the Department of Health´s grant in aid to the CQC.

Local Healthwatch will have a seat on health and wellbeing boards, to channel the views and experiences of patients, carers and other service users into local needs assessments and strategies such as Joint Strategic Needs Assessments and the authorisation of Clinical Commissioning Groups.

Local Healthwatch will be able to alert Healthwatch England to concerns about specific care providers, provide people with information about their choices and what to do when things go wrong and should also supply ‘authoritative, evidence-based feedback to CCGs and care providers’.

Healthwatch England´s role includes providing leadership, guidance and support to local Healthwatch organisations, advising the Health Secretary, NHS Commissioning Board, Monitor and local authorities – who must have regard to that advice – and escalating concerns about health and social care services raised by local Healthwatch to the CQC.

What is the rationale behind it?

Healthwatch is a major policy plank in the government´s ‘no decision about me without me’ drive to put patients at the heart of the NHS and make shared decision-making the norm.

Where is it in terms of development?

In March 2011, the DH published the Healthwatch Transition Plan, the first of a series of documents for local authorities and LINks since followed by ‘A strong voice for people: local Healthwatch – the policy explained’.

In August 2011, the DH set up 75 Healthwatch pathfinders to test different approaches to the proposed local Healthwatch functions.

Healthwatch England was established on October 1 2012. Its chair is Anna Bradley, a former director at the Financial Services Authority and former chair of two professional regulators.

Regulations to support local Healthwatch were also laid this month.

What are going to be the tricky bits to digest/get agreement on?

Funding for local Healthwatch is a key concern – particularly with local authority budgets being decimated.

It has emerged that there will be no additional money for these and funding will not be ringfenced. Fears were raised when the DH withdrew a consultation document after it appeared to suggest local Healthwatch branches could be run for as little as £20,000 a year – compared with the £100,000 spent by LINks.

Independence is another worry. Local Healthwatch organisations will be contracted by and accountable to local authorities – which means they won´t actually be independent at all. And as a statutory committee of the CQC, funded by the DH´s grant in aid, Healthwatch England will not be able to claim any real independence either.