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Councillors question Francis proposals

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Councillors have raised concerns about some of the recommendations in the Francis report on the NHS care scandal at Stafford Hospital.

Stack of reports

The report, published last month, recommended that council scrutiny committees should be given the power to inspect NHS services.

But Steve Besder (Lab), cabinet member for health and wellbeing at Birmingham City Council, said at an LGA meeting on Wednesday that carrying out inspections “would be an enormously resource intensive process for scrutiny committees”.

He said it could also “create an expectation” among the public that the committees would root out failures in the NHS – but that without sufficient resources and expertise the groups would struggle to do this.

The Francis report also said local authorities should be required to pass over all the funds they received for local Healthwatch groups directly to the groups themselves, letting them be independently accountable for their use of funds.

But Cllr Bedser said: “We’re using some of the allocation to give us capacity to have commissioning oversight of Healthwatch. I think it’s important that it’s recognised that the resource of Healthwatch isn’t something that gets passported 100% to the Healthwatch body.

“The local authority needs to retain the capacity to have the stewardship of that money and commissioning oversight.”

He added that it had been expensive for councils to oversee local involvement networks, the predecessors to Healthwatch groups, and ensure they “keep on track”.

Other councillors at the meeting agreed that they would need more information about the proposed changes, and the ability to challenge them, if they were to go ahead. The government is due to outline its response to the Francis report later this month.

Cllr Bedser also said he was frustrated about a “conflict” in the way different government departments saw the role of councillors.

“On one hand I hear the government making pronouncement about the role of elected members in terms of us needing to be part time and not receive pensions - and on the other hand as chair of the health and wellbeing board I just see more and more responsibility being ladled in my direction”, he said.

“I can’t see any way of dealing with that other than it being a full time role to which I’m absolutely committed. So there’s a conflict of policy direction.”

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