Healthwatch England’s bid to secure seats for patient champions on all ‘super clinical commissioning groups’ has been dashed by the health secretary in a letter rejecting claims such structures are unaccountable.
Jeremy Hunt’s response comes after Healthwatch chair Anna Bradley accused CCGs of undermining her organisation’s role by “clubbing together” in closed groups to discuss reshaping health services across wide areas.
In a letter to Mr Hunt last month, Ms Bradley called for the health secretary to strengthen accountability measures by amending a legal order which is expected to ease the formation of super CCGs.
She also urged Mr Hunt to give local Healthwatch bodies non-voting seats on any joint committees established by CCGs.
The health secretary responded in a letter last week, stating he was “not proposing further legislative change to amend the order”.
His letter said the new arrangements would “not circumvent any of the existing duties” of CCGs to consult with communities.
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Ms Bradley’s request for local Healthwatch representatives to have non-voting seats would be “contrary to the permissive and flexible nature of the legislation in relation to CCGs”, it said.
“It is right that local clinicians have the autonomy to determine the structures that will work best to deliver services for their local population.”
Mr Hunt said he had asked the Department of Health and NHS England to consider what additional “good practice resources” may be required to “support effective and accountable collaboration between CCGs”.
Responding to Mr Hunt’s letter, Healthwatch England said it did not share his confidence in the new arrangements because they were concerned CCGs had not properly fulfilled their duties to consult with communities to date.
Ms Bradley has now asked NHS England to review how effectively CCGs have engaged with local Healthwatch and the public.
NHS Clinical Commissioners said they agreed with Mr Hunt that the current arrangements to ensure accountability were sufficient.
Director Julie Wood said: “We would agree with the secretary of state that CCGs’ statutory responsibility to ensure they have strong transparent and accountable patient and population engagement in their plans, through Healthwatch and local CCG mechanisms, are already in place.
“There is no need for any further legislation or top down mandatory requirements of CCGs.”