Lansley’s newest nonsense – putting patient representation out to competitive tender

I am hearing a most bizarre rumour – even by the standards of bizarreness fostered by the Health and Social Care Bill.

Apparently, Ministers have instructed civil servants to draft an amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill (which begins its Report Stage in the House of Lords on 8th February) to change the status of the proposed new local HealthWatch organisations.  These are the local structures that are being set up to protect the interests of patients in the brave new world of the “reformed” health service after the Bill is passed.  (I have already warned that the proposals for HealthWatch are flawed.)

I am told that under this amendment, local HealthWatch organisations will no longer be “statutory bodies” but will instead become “bodies carrying out statutory functions”.  This sounds – as, of course, it is meant to – like a trivial semantic point and the amendment will no doubt be presented as a technical change of no significance.

The reality is very different.

In fact, the change of status is important.  It implies a downgrading of local HealthWatch organisations and they will need all the clout they can muster if they are to be effective.  Some of that clout would come from being a statutory body in their own right.

But the real reason behind this change is that the local councils who are to set up the local HealthWatch organisations will now be required to put out to commercial tender the work of HealthWatch.  (You cannot tender for a statutory body, but you can tender for a body to carry out statutory functions.)  And as each individual HealthWatch organisation will have a budget above the level at which EU competition rules kick in, the tender will have to be advertised across the European Union in the Official Journal, so that firms and organisations from anywhere in Europe can compete to provide local consumer representation services.

I hate to think what these multiple tendering operations will cost and I fail to see how it is likely to lead to better quality local patient representation.

If this were some new health and safety requirement or some equal opportunities expectation, no doubt the newspapers would be wheeling out the “This is political correctness gone mad” headlines.

In fact, this is another example of the Health Secretary’s privatisation-mania, so all together now:


9 thoughts on “Lansley’s newest nonsense – putting patient representation out to competitive tender”

  1. Would these “bodies carrying out statutory functions” fall within the remit of the FOIA (as I presume ‘statutory bodies’ would)?

  2. This isn’t something I’m at all familiar with, but I think it has already been raised that we will end up with fewer bodies looking after the NHS that are amenable to the FOIA. I’m sure I’ve seen something written about this, but I can’t remember where.

    Do you know if the HSCB says anything about this? As I understand it, the FOIA has an Annex that specifies the bodies it covers, so presumably the HSCB would need to amend the FOIA.

  3. GPs speculate that the NHS will become unworkable. Just another part of the scuppering … sorry, reform rip-off or process as they like to say.

  4. Honestly, are they deliberately trying to wreak everything so that it will all collapse?

    I am involved with patient participation as an elected FT governor and through local patient groups and participation groups. I recognise the important contribution that members of LINks and patient forums have made in our local area. It is very apparent that the people involved are volunteers, donating their time and expertise for the greater good of their community. I am quite amazed at how devoted such people are, but I shouldn’t be, because I know why they do it: it is unabashed community spirit.

    Outsourcing HealthWatch will break this vital ethos. What we will get instead are the suits. These are the twenty-somethings, from out of the area, straight from Russell-group universities and on a career trajectory that can only go upwards and away. Our community healthcare will be their pro bono contribution to mark them out for their future careers in private NHS commissioning, or a blue-yellow political career. There will be no community focus.

  5. Am I correct that if the new bodies are not to be statutory then they will not be subject to FOIA? The same I believe applies to any organisation setting up as a provider of health or social care?

    There is clear evidence that some of the present Link organisations (which may well evolve in to Healthwatch) lacked guidance and were unclear about their role. Others, to their credit developed a positive and worthwhile role. If Healthwatch is to be devalued to such an extent then why waste money on an organisation that will have no teeth and therefore no power.

  6. To give the Government their due, one of their amendments would extend the FOI Act to HealthWatch organisations/contractors in respect of their HealthWatch related functions (at least I think that is the effect of the amendment).

  7. Thank you for your response, I sincerely hope that you are correct in that there is an amendment which will ensure that FOIA is
    extended to include Healthwatch organisations.

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