Hounslow Council Halve Funding for NHS Watchdog

Borough may have England's lowest per capita spend on health care monitoring

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Hounslow Council have made the largest reduction in funding to the local health care watchdog in England according to figures released by Healthwatch UK.

The local authority has a statutory obligation to fund independent monitoring of health services and this has been done in the borough by providing grants to Healthwatch Hounslow.

In a survey of 148 local government areas in England, it was found that Hounslow was making the largest reduction to their grant to Healthwatch of any authority in 2015/16 with funding being reduced by 53% from £191,611 to £89,378.

This is the sixth lowest amount of any Council and Healthwatch UK told us that this probably represents the lowest per capita spend in England as the authorities who spend less are areas like Rutland and the Isles of Scilly which have much lower populations or Manchester where there are alternative provisions for independent monitoring of the NHS.

When the reduction was queried by Healthwatch UK they were told by Hounslow that they had 'performance concerns' about the organisation in the borough but they did not go on to specify what these were. Healthwatch UK now plan to ask Hounslow to explain their contingency plans to ensure investment in public engagement is maintained.

Healthwatch UK chair, Anna Bradley said, “On average local Healthwatch across the country receive less than the cost of a single first class stamp per person to spend on ensuring the views, experiences and needs of the public drive change in how services are delivered.

“So to see even this modest amount being cut by up to 50 per cent in some areas raises serious questions and will undoubtedly impact on the effectiveness of local Healthwatch.

“We recognise that local authorities are having to cope with their own cuts but the majority of councils have recognised the value local Healthwatch bring and have managed to maintain investment.

“We urge those councils that have decided to impose such severe cuts to outline why they have made this decision and how they will ensure public are provided with the voice they need to influence the big decisions around how local health and care services are delivered.”

Hounslow was one of four London boroughs who contributed to a public enquiry into the local NHS chaired by Michael Mansfield which is believed to have cost over £250,000. London Borough of Ealing which also funded the exercise made the fifth largest reduction in the grant to the watchdog although it is not possible to confirm a direct link between the spending on the enquiry and the reduction of funding for Healthwatch. As the enquiry was funded by four Labour controlled boroughs and was held just before the election, opposition politicians claimed that it was an electioneering exercise rather than a genuine attempt to deal with issues in the NHS.

Jacob Lant of Healthwatch UK said, “If a Council uses the money given for the purpose of monitoring local health services to their local Healthwatch group as opposed to making their own enquiries they will be independently assessed with no risk of politicisation.”

It was recently revealed that the Care Quality Commission rated a care centre for the elderly as inadequate and Healthwatch confirmed that members of their organisation would have given evidence to the inspectors. Healthwatch said that it would be very difficult to prove a link between a reduction in funding and negative assessments of local services but they would view 'very gravely' any such behaviour.

Councillor Kamaljit Kaur, Hounslow Council's Cabinet Member foe Adult Social Care and Health, said, "We value the function and ethos of Healthwatch and after discussion with the local Healthwatch Board we have asked them to focus on a number of jointly agreed priorities and reduced their funding accordingly, to £90,000.

"This will mean that they can continue to be the public’s voice in health and social care locally and we will support Healthwatch Hounslow to be independent.

"We’ll also continue to work with Healthwatch Hounslow to tackle health and social care inequalities across the borough, in partnership with the Clinical Commissioning Group and through the Health and Wellbeing Board."

June 26, 2015