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We didn't talk about NHS failures - but we've learned lessons

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Among the many words written following publication of the Francis report on the failings of NHS, there is an angle that has yet to be addressed.

In the era of localism, the overarching role and influence of the local authority in representing the needs of our residents and the quality of their care must now become more, not less significant.

In Staffordshire, we have welcomed the report’s recommendations and whilst not in the direct glare of the media or political spotlight, our own scrutiny performance pre-2009 attracted some criticism.

Along with the plethora of other organisations involved in the commissioning, delivery and scrutiny of healthcare at Stafford Hospital, we must bear some of the responsibility for what happened.

The major challenge to come out of the Francis report for everyone involved in local government scrutiny is to ask yourself if you would have done more if it had happened in your city or town.

This is about being honest and asking if you suffer from a self-imposed underlying censorship which prevents politicians from ever doing anything other than praising doctors and nurses, which in turn means we can’t talk about NHS failures.

We have put considerable effort into putting our own in house in order in recent years by making scrutiny of our partners more robust. That includes better training for councillors and specialist support from medical experts where necessary. While no system is perfect, I believe we have the checks in place to ensure history is not repeated in Staffordshire.

But I also think there is a need to look beyond scrutiny to the leadership and support which both members and staff of local authorities can provide in helping our NHS face the challenge of restoring public confidence.

As a local authority, we are moving very much towards a “commissioning council” approach, which seeks to eradicate the boundaries between services and departments. Instead it focuses on designing services which bring the greatest benefits to residents.

It is an approach we are replicating with partners, including the NHS, to deliver what residents want and need, rather than what any single organisation dictates.

The focus is simple. People need to be empowered to drive change.

In Staffordshire,  we have not only made changes to how we scrutinise our NHS partners, including encouraging residents to publicly question NHS managers, we have also made bold changes to give residents a strong, powerful voice to deliver meaningful change.

We established the ground-breaking Engaging Communities Staffordshire as an independent patients champion to gather intelligence, feedback and research in one place. The will be further bolstered by the creation of Staffordshire Healthwatch, a further voice for residents, in April.

The Francis Report has helped crystalise our understanding of the need to challenge ourselves and partners, with a genuine insight of people’s needs and adopt an approach to innovation that allows us to seek savings in public service delivery but without compromising the drive to deliver the highest quality services to local people.

To me this creates a clear opportunity for us in helping institutions like the NHS to utilise the insight offered from a genuine and real engagement with residents and ensure that transformation of services is not simply a byword for cuts.

We must take the opportunity of the new Health and Wellbeing Boards to better join up the leadership and governance across health and care and link up our approaches to quality assurance and safeguarding as part of this process.

The Francis Report teaches us many lessons, but perhaps for us all it is a timely, and overdue reminder, of who and why the public sector is here to serve.

Cllr Philip Atkins (Con), leader, Staffordshire CC

  • 182_Philip-Atkins

    We didn't talk about NHS failures - but we've learned lessons

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