The government has rejected a plan by Robert Francis QC to force councils to hand centrally-allocated funding directly to local Healthwatch groups, arguing that councils should be free to decide the groups’ funding.

In its response to Mr Francis’ report into failures of care at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, the Department of Health said it did not agree with his recommendation that each local authority “should be required to pass over the centrally provide funds allocated to its local Healthwatch, while requiring the latter to account for its stewardship of the money.”

Rejecting this proposal, the government’s response said: “We believe that local authorities are best placed to make decisions about funding services that meet the needs of their local communities – including local Healthwatch.”

It said the government expected local Healthwatch groups – community organisations set up to champion the interests of the users of local health and social care services – to have “sufficient funding”.

However, it added, “we do not believe it is for the government to dictate what this level should be”.

All local Healthwatch groups will be required to publish the amount of funding they receive on an annual basis.

The government’s response also rejected a proposal by Mr Francis that there should be a “consistent basic structure for local Healthwatch throughout the country”.

It said the DH wanted to see “consistency of outcomes” from local Healthwatch groups, but that the individual groups “should be set up in a way that best meets the needs and reflects the circumstances of their local communities”.

Imposing a “fixed structure” would “undermine the need for flexibility”, the response said.

The government’s response, published today, also addressed a call by Mr Francis for council scrutiny committees to be given the power to inspect providers.

It said the committees already had the power to visit the premises of providers of health and care services if they were concerned about the quality of provision. They could also make referrals to the Care Quality Commission which could open a formal inspection, it said.

The government accepted a recommendation by Mr Francis that the CQC “should expand its work with overview and scrutiny committees and foundation trust governors as a valuable information resource.”

15-minute care visits

The government also used its response to Mr Francis to criticise the commissioning of 15-minute social care visits.

“Designating 15 minutes can be an unrealistic time to complete tasks during a home care appointment in most instances,” it said.

It also warned that there would be “enforcement activity” and “statutory guidance” to clamp down on cases in which care workers were effectively being paid less than the national minimum wage because they were not being paid for travel time between care visits.