The decision to make HealthWatch England part of the Care Quality Commission is a “mistake”, according to a group advising on the proposals.
The government envisages HealthWatch England acting as a consumer champion for patients. Under the terms of the Health Bill it will be a committee of the CQC.
But the National Association of LINks (local involvement networks) Members disagrees with this approach. The group provides a fifth of representatives on HealthWatch England’s advisory panel.
HSJ has seen a letter to David Behan, the Department of Health director general responsible for HealthWatch. In it, association chair Malcolm Alexander and vice chair Ruth Marsden say their members have “worked earnestly with the CQC over the past year with the intention of building collaborative approaches to the creation of HealthWatch England”.
It states: “The location of HealthWatch England in the CQC is a mistake, is inappropriate and will not secure the independence and support and resources that the local HealthWatch needs.”
HealthWatch branches will be commissioned by local authorities and replace existing LINks.
Mr Alexander told HSJ many LINks members in the advisory group often felt they were being “patronised” by the CQC and not kept informed.
National Voices chief executive Jeremy Taylor, who sits on the DH HealthWatch programme board and also chairs the Future Forum information workstream, told HSJ there was widespread support for HealthWatch England being independent.
“The government’s reasons [for not setting it up as an independent body] seem to be it would look bad if we created a new quango and it would cost money, neither of which are very good reasons,” he said.
Amendments to the Health Bill affecting HealthWatch’s national and local structure and powers were due to be debated this week. One calls for HealthWatch England to be a separate corporate body.
Future Forum member Sally Brearley, who also sits on the HealthWatch advisory group, agreed there were concerns about HealthWatch England’s independence but said it was unlikely a battle for a separate body would be won.
In a letter responding to some of the concerns, CQC chief executive Cynthia Bower said she was “surprised and sorry” to hear of the doubts.