Local authority health and wellbeing boards must have stronger powers to ensure cooperation from commissioning consortia, the government has been warned.
While many think tanks and health experts have welcomed the concept of the boards – due to be set up in shadow form by April 2012 – they have also raised concerns about their ability to improve health services and hold GPs to account.
The problems have been highlighted by groups including the King’s Fund, the NHS Confederation, the Local Government Association and the right wing Bow Group, in responses to the public health white paper.
Their views represent a heightening of concern since the boards were first announced, when insiders told HSJ they seemed to have sufficient teeth.
LGA community wellbeing board chair David Rogers has written to health secretary Andrew Lansley calling for the Health and Social Care Bill to be amended to place a duty on consortia to cooperate with the boards.
The King’s Fund highlighted the same concern. It said in a paper: “While the bill would place a duty on boards to promote integration, there is no equivalent duty on consortia.
“There is a risk that health and wellbeing boards will be no more effective in driving local integration than previous initiatives such as joint consultative committees.”
The Bow Group warned it was important for the boards to be more than “simply ‘talking shops’ that local stakeholders merely pay lip service to”.
The NHS Confederation also argued that the health and wellbeing boards’ “ability to hold organisations to account needs to be strengthened”.
It said: “These new organisations will not achieve their potential if they are given the responsibility for strategy but not the capability to deliver it. Health and wellbeing boards need to be sufficiently powerful to hold organisations to account if outcomes are not delivered or engagement is lacking.”
The Department of Health announced earlier this month that 134 local authorities had signed up to join a network of early implementers of health and wellbeing boards, following an invitation in January from DH director general for social care, local government and care partnerships David Behan.
It was announced at the same time that NHS West Sussex chief executive John Wilderspin had been appointed to support local implementation of the boards.