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:

First, there is no ideal person to do the job. I think that past iterations of what is now Healthwatch may have been slightly too full of people who were more interested in constitutional matters than the actual provision of health services. That was the impression I formed during the Stafford inquiry, but I think that is not true of Healthwatch. The presence of a Healthwatch person—by the way, this requires a new level of Healthwatch collaboration and function, but that is not difficult to provide in the Bill—will not produce, in itself, the culture that you talk of. The health service is still an organisation that, in the jargon, is top-down and is delivering things to people, rather than getting their ideas and responding to them. But the presence of the Healthwatch person, or some independent person, is at least a symbol of the need to have such a culture and to develop it. It will be someone whose principal task may be to question whether that culture is being led and developed.

If you have that person, you can back it up if you need to—in regulatory terms—with whatever form of systemic review the Care Quality Commission is tasked with doing. Its reports could certainly be a very valuable tool in relation to this, but you need a channel of communication between the ICB, if that is to be the centre of all this, and the wider world within its constituency. Unless there is someone whose independent role is to oversee whether that is happening, I am not sure it will. All organisations currently in the NHS have directors of engagement and communication. I suspect that, with the best will in the world, most of them see it as their job to defend the organisation. This is not about defending an organisation; it is about welcoming constructive comment from the public and responding to the needs that people communicate to them.