The government has rejected councils’ objections to proposal which could “politicise” local disputes about hospital closures.

The Department of Health announced in July that it wanted to strip councils’ health scrutiny committees of their power to make a formal complaint about NHS reorganisations to the secretary of state and pass the power instead to the full council.

The proposal would mean the political group in control of a council- rather than its neutral health scrutiny group- would decide whether the authority should attempt to block or change plans by the NHS to close or reorganise local health services.  

The LGA and Solace – and several individual councils – opposed the move, arguing that requiring full council agreement to challenge a health service closure “could potentially politicise matters”. Authorities’ scrutiny functions were better placed because of their neutrality.

The DH has admitted in a report that most of the respondents to its consultation did not support the plan, on the grounds of politicisation and amid fears that it could jeopardise the independence of councils’ health scrutiny role.

However, it says, the department will stick by its plan, giving full council the power to make a formal objection to NHS reorganisations unless the local authority chooses to delegate this power to its health scrutiny committee.

The DH’s report, which outlines responses to its consultation, said: “The majority [of respondents] opposed the proposal on the grounds it would undermine the independence of health scrutiny and risked politicising referrals”.

It said: “The department recognises the concerns expressed by those who opposed this proposal. However, under the changes made by the [Health and Social Care] 2012 Act it is the local authority that will hold the statutory powers of health scrutiny and they will determine how those functions are discharged…The current system, therefore, need to change to reflect this.”

The DH report also said:

  • The government will not pursue a plan it suggested in its consultation document, which would require councils’ health scrutiny committees to “provide financially sustainable alternatives” to health service reconfigurations that they opposed. Respondents had said this was “firmly outside the remit of health scrutiny”.
  • Most respondents opposed the proposal that councils should have to complain to the NHS Commissioning Board, rather than the secretary of state, about plans to reorganise health services. Several raised concerns about a potential conflict of interest, if the NHSCB supported the changes. In response, the DH has dropped the plan.