Examination of Witness

Part of Health and Care Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 9th September 2021.

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Sir Robert Francis:

Healthwatch England welcomes the requirement for Healthwatch and representatives of the public to be “involved”—that is the word—in the strategy, but we would like to see that enhanced, as I am sure many people would, and we just heard that expressed very articulately. In order for these new reforms to work, it is absolutely essential that the public whom the system serves are able to engage with it and participate in the design of the services that they are going to receive. In order to do that, in our view, they need a visible presence on the ICB board and the ICB partnership. Although that can of course be done by local discretion and local arrangement, we think it would be a powerful boost to the importance given to the people’s voice if there was a representative on the ICB—not as a voting member but, in NHS England’s parlance, as a “participant”. It would be a requirement that one of the participants be such a representative, and you will not be surprised to know that we would advocate that person being a representative of Healthwatch.

That can be done through a coalition of local healthwatches—in many places there will be more than one—so that they have a presence on the board and are able to raise things. It is not just a question of the ICS deciding what to ask people about; they need to have a flow of intelligence coming in about what people are actually concerned about, and those two things are often different. It should be someone who is able to question what is happening in a constructive way.

Of course, part of that is done by local government representatives, and this is not a substitute for local democracy, but we consider that Healthwatch has a local and national ability to reach out to groups who do not often get considered, for instance, and that is particularly relevant if you are seeking to tackle health inequalities. Through the relationships that a good local healthwatch has with groups who feel—rightly or wrongly—that they have often been ignored, the questions that they pose can be put and the answers given back to them. That is a two-way process; you need someone who is independent from the system but in the room, and they also need to be able to transmit into the room information from patient services and the public, and transmit information back. They are part of the mechanism for explaining to the world at large this extremely complicated new concept—namely, a system of which the public has no understanding at all at the moment. A lot of professionals do not either.