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Users of local health services stand to gain a lot from council scrutiny of health - but to succeed, realistic aims...
Users of local health services stand to gain a lot from council scrutiny of health - but to succeed, realistic aims and clear ground rules should be agreed, says an Audit Commission paper out today.

A Healthy Outlook examines the critical issues facing local authorities and NHS bodies as they set up new scrutiny arrangements. Under new legislation, councils can make 'reports and recommendations' on health matters and can require NHS representatives to attend and inform scrutiny meetings.

Making the new roles work will require new processes and skills - and constructive relationships between health and local authorities. Some health bodies are nervous about what scrutiny will mean, and not all councils are well equipped to carry it out.

A Healthy Outlook addresses these concerns, outlines good practice and potential pitfalls, and sets out the actions needed on the part of both councils and health bodies.

It says councils should consider the scope and objectives of their scrutiny before starting, and make sure scrutiny is based on sound evidence. Also, they need to give elected members a basic grounding in health issues, set aside officer time to support the process, and consult with other agencies.

It is best if NHS bodies approach scrutiny positively and talk with their local councils at an early stage. They should also be open to challenge and provide convincing explanations if they fail to adopt scrutiny recommendations, the Commission says.

Central government should clearly set out the principles and legal powers of the new health scrutiny role - and clarify the resources needed, in particular whether there will be any extra funding.

Controller of the Audit Commission, Andrew Foster, said:

'It is exciting to see new forms of co-ordination between health and local authorities. Local people and communities stand to gain more joined-up, responsive services as a result. But councils should be properly prepared for their new role, and NHS bodies should be receptive to it. Our paper aims to help both learn from each other, and work together productively.'

* A Healthy Outlook - Local Authority Overview and Scrutiny of Health is available from Audit Commission Publications on 0800 502030, priced£15.

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