Launch of Healthwatch Camden’s first Annual Report!

A milestone for Healthwatch Camden this month was the publication of our first annual report, showing what we have achieved in our first year – or more accurately, our first nine months, as the work to get us properly set up and all our staff in post took up most of the first three months. Thanks to our temporary team (Mable and Anne) who helped us get going. 

We’ve worked really hard to get our office open and our website ready for our official start date on 1st April. Our founding trustees brought commitment and wisdom to shape our work plan.

Voluntary Action Camden helped us to set up and to get our charity registration. The day the registration was confirmed felt like a massive step forward. Since then, we’ve been getting down to the business of fulfilling our community mandate and trying, like all local Healthwatch organisations, to make a small resource stretch a long way across the entire health and social care system in the borough.

Highlights include our first ‘community forum’, sharing ideas with 60 local people, and publishing our report on our first mystery shopping exercise. On the way, we visited dozens of community groups and user forums, overhauled our website, issued hundreds of tweets updating people about developments in health and care, taken part in the health scrutiny committee and the health and wellbeing board.  

Completing the annual report required us to check that we were fulfilling all our legal obligations as a local Healthwatch. This prompted me to think again about where Healthwatch sits in the current health and social care landscape. I’ve been re-reading Nick Timmins’s excellent report on the making of the 2012 Health and Social Care Act (prompted by Alison Kelly, new chair of the Health Scrutiny Committee) which brought Healthwatch into being.

Looking at how we got to be what we are is particularly interesting for me: prior to coming to Camden, I worked in the Healthwatch team at the Department of Health, during the time the legislation was developing. Now, after a year of putting theory into practice, I am reflecting on how much we guessed right and what we might have done differently.

The decision to make all local Healthwatch organisations into independent corporate bodies was the right one, I think. We have the freedom to develop in ways that fit our local context. In Camden, that includes a large and diverse voluntary sector, meaning that a lot of our work involves networking with other organisations.

The creation of a single shared identity for the whole Healthwatch network was a successful endeavour. A recognisable brand, with attractive styling, has helped us all.

The essential role of Healthwatch England is another crucial part of the whole. Having a national body to raise the important issues really strengthens the local network. Being able to share ideas across the whole network is very helpful.

And putting local Healthwatch into an ‘insider’ role, as members of the local Health and Wellbeing Board, has changed the relationship we have with statutory colleagues. It gives us the opportunity for a different sort of influencing.

Some things have not been so good. Our relationship with the NHS complaints advocacy services has been unclear. Our role in information provision is set out clearly in the Act, but the description of it in guidance documents as ‘signposting’ has been misleading. There is a gap in the system where the ‘advice and liaison’ part of PCT PALS services used to be. Many of the queries we get in Camden are from people who know where to go but are having an unsatisfactory time when they get there.

Often, the problem is one of communication from a health professional. What they need is not a signpost, it is a ‘fixer’, who will unblock the communication channels. In at least one local area, the NHS complaints advocacy service has been extended to provide some of this help. Ideally, there would be a recognised role (and adequate funding) for a local organisation to do this in every area.

So, in the light of a year doing it for real, I think that the blueprint for Healthwatch was reasonably good. Putting theory into action in a local Healthwatch has been a great experience, and we’re going into our second year feeling optimistic and strong.

(Please note – all the opinions in these blogs are personal and do not necessarily represent those of Healthwatch Camden as a whole.)