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Local Healthwatch – Getting Strategic and punching above its weight

May 4, 2016

HW Punch

In our work with local Healthwatch it struck me is that one of the challenges that local Healthwatch face is operating at both an operational and strategic level.

The default for understandable reasons tends to be towards the operational – not least because I suspect this is what they are performance managed on by their commissioner. In other words there is a focus on the delivery of services. In Healthwatch terms this might be:

  • Providing information and advice
  • Undertaking a set of investigations in areas where there is concern – for example on provision of urgent care or dentistry or a programme of enter and view.

All of this is clearly important – a local Healthwatch has no credibility if it cannot demonstrate that it has a clear programme of practical actions developed in response to concerns raised by members of the public.

However, this is not enough – they need to be able to bring their influence to bear at a system level too.

In the Quality Statements that we developed for Healthwatch England last year local Healthwatch identified that one of the most important areas by which their effectiveness should be measured was that concerned with how they manage strategic relationships – their relationship to their local health and care system as a whole.

In order to do this effectively local Healthwatch need to go further than just using their positional power on the Health and Wellbeing Board. From our work I have seen examples of where local Healthwatch are doing this successfully. Here are some examples.

Making Quality Accounts Meaningful

Following a report we wrote on with Healthwatch Leeds on the relationship between Quality Accounts (and Local Accounts) and local Healthwatch – Healthwatch Leeds have continued to develop work in this area. This year they are holding two workshops – the first held earlier this year gave Quality Account leads from across the system (big hospital trusts, hospices, community NHS trusts, the local authority) the chance to share progress they had made to address some of the challenges they identified in the Quality Accounts last year. The second workshop will allow a joint discussion on their draft Quality Accounts for this year.

This friendly, collective discussion achieves the following:

  • Sharing of good practice – its interesting that some of the work that the two Hospices were doing was of particular interest to the much larger NHS trusts.
  • Breaking down silos – this is one of the few places in the local system that brings organisations together to look at how they connect and work together to meet the health and care needs of people in Leeds.

A shared approach to engagement

Healthwatch Leeds pulls together a “Public Voices Group” a regular bi-monthly meeting of engagement leads from across the health and care system – provider and commissioner. This forum provides an opportunity to:

  • Share information on emerging consultations
  • Discuss good practice
  • Jointly publicise activity
  • Undertake joint work – the group recently asked us to undertake a quick survey which looked at how different health and care organisations in the city used membership databases to connect with the public.

Advice and Information

This is an emerging area. In our work across the country it has been striking that the area where the work of local Healthwatch is least understood is that to do with Information, Advice and Signposting for individual members of the public. I don’t think this is surprising for two reasons:

  • First, local Healthwatch are very small – in most cases there contribution to information and advice provision when compared to a large hospital trust, a local authority or welfare rights service is very small. This does not mean that it is not important. A local Healthwatch may be the last port of call for people who have struggled to get advice and information anywhere else.
  • Second, in most local authorities areas no one has a handle of the level of advice and information provision in the health and care world and I have seen no evidence that anyone has an analysis of what good might look like.

I think that this could be an area where local Healthwatch has a role to advocate for a strategic review advice and information provision – who is being missed out and what good might look like.

What do you think?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 5, 2016 14:53

    Hi Mark – thanks for another insightful blog about the role of Healthwatch. I think the key message for me is ‘what is good information, advice and signposting’. It is a key concern for Healthwatch Tower Hamlets that we get this essential component of our work right, but we are very keen to find out how others are doing on this issue and how they are negotiating with local authorities on proving impact in this area. Counting numbers of people we help isn’t, in my opinion, much of an indicator at all but with extremely limited resources gathering meaningful data is a big challenge.


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