Q&A on the future of Healthwatch Reading

Reading Borough Council is running a public consultation from 19 December 2017 to 5 February 2018 about how Healthwatch Reading should work and be funded in the future. Below, we explain our role, our impact, the implications of the plan and how people can have their say.

What is Healthwatch?

Healthwatch was launched as a new national network by the government on 1 April 2013 to give people a greater say over NHS and social care services and prevent the kind of care scandals that led to the mistreatment of hospital patients in Staffordshire.

All Healthwatch have some legal powers, such as being able to visit GP surgeries, hospitals or care homes, to collect first-hand, real-time experiences from people. We use this evidence to campaign for improvements or highlight good practice.

Who pays for Healthwatch?

The government uses taxpayers’ money to fund Healthwatch. Every year it gives every local authority a sum to pay for a Healthwatch in its area. Councils use all or some of this sum to award contracts to the organisation they think can best deliver the Healthwatch service.

How does Healthwatch Reading work?

Healthwatch Reading is a charity, run from the third floor of Reading Central Library. It is governed by a board of trustees and its work is overseen by a board of people from the Reading community, including members of local Patient Voice groups. It employs 10 staff, mostly part-time, equating to 4.4 full-time workers.

Healthwatch Wokingham is a separate community interest company that employs its own staff and decides its own work priorities.

What has Healthwatch Reading achieved since 2013?

Our highlights include:

  • Helping 1,650 people in Reading with their individual queries, concerns, feedback, or complaints about NHS or social care services
  • Collecting views and experiences from 1,800 Reading people who have answered surveys we have run about local services
  • Publishing 60 reports on local people’s experiences that have led to changes or improvements to local NHS or social care services
  • Expanding our service by launching one-to-one advocacy services. These empower people such as those with learning disabilities, to be heard when social workers are deciding what care they need.

What specific impact has Healthwatch Reading had?

We don’t just collect public stories, we take action! Here’s 10 examples of how we have made a difference:

1. We helped to stop the closure of a Reading mental health care home after showing councillors a film we made of residents talking about what the home meant to them.

2. We won a national award for our A&E project involving visits to the Royal Berkshire Hospital every day for a week. The public feedback we collected showed that other NHS services were sending people to A&E, rather than people ‘misusing’ the service. We are now working with the hospital on improvements

3. We blew the whistle on poor patient care at Circuit Lane Surgery and Priory Avenue Surgery – two Reading GP practices taken over by an outside company. Our evidence led to external inspections and more funding for extra doctors.

4. We exposed that some homeless people in Reading were pulling out their own teeth because of barriers to dental treatment – the report has gone to the NHS and councillors as part of a wider homeless health audit.

5. The NHS and council agreed to jointly plan and fund Reading Your Way, the community service for people living with mental health needs, after we collated evidence from people concerned about a proposed closure of the service.

6. Local midwifery leaders agreed to improve information given to pregnant women about alternative places of birth, after we presented case studies of women describing the trauma of being suddenly diverted elsewhere to give birth when home birth teams or labour wards were understaffed.

7. Local NHS officials produced a translated appointment card for people in the ex-Gurkha community in Reading after we collected stories about their problems getting seen at their GP or hospital outpatient departments.

8. We persuaded the council to involve local people in choosing which home care agencies should be approved to work in Reading. This came after we interviewed more than 60 people who described the varied quality of regular visits they got to help them with tasks like dressing, washing, and taking medication.

9. Health and council managers drew up an action plan in response to our in-depth case-studies of older people affected by disjointed working between health and social care services that led to delays in leaving hospital.

10. We produced a local Support after Suicide guide, after families told us they did not know where to turn to, after their loved ones died during, or soon after, stays on mental health wards

So why do the councils want to combine the two Healthwatch?

Reading and Wokingham councils say they are ‘under extreme financial pressure as a result of cuts in Government funding’. They believe that bringing together the two Healthwatch will offer ‘efficiency savings’ because of ‘a lot of overlap between the work’ of both.  At the moment Healthwatch Reading gets £110,000 for its Healthwatch function, while Wokingham gets £107,000. These combined amounts, of £217,000, would be cut to £173,000 for the new single organisation, a reduction of £44,000.

How much work actually overlaps between the two Healthwatch?

The communities of Reading and Wokingham share some common services, such as A&E and other hospital care from the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, and mental health and community services provided by Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. This has led to the two Healthwatch organisations working together on a project visiting patients at Prospect Park Hospital in late 2017 to jointly interview patients who may come from both areas.

However most GP surgeries, dental practices, care homes and other social care services only deliver services to residents in one, and not both boroughs, and so this may not offer scope for any efficiencies when working on patient and service user experience projects.

There are also differences in each borough’s community make-up which means they may not have the same priorities on how they want NHS or social care services to work.  Reading’s population is generally younger, and more culturally and ethnically diverse, with some people living in significant areas of deprivation. Wokingham is considered a healthy community, with high levels of education and employment, and a rising older population.

The proposed single Healthwatch organisation would still have to separately report to each council on its work. Reading is a Labour-led council, while Wokingham has a Conservative majority.

What impact would the proposed new Healthwatch have on the people of Reading?

The £44,000 cut in resources may mean that people receive a reduced or remote Healthwatch service.

Healthwatch Reading has experienced previous council cuts to its budget but has been able to largely maintain a five-day a week, drop-in and helpline service to the public. This has been partly due to recruiting high quality, dedicated local staff, and partly thanks to securing extra income from long-term contracts for other statutory services, or from one-off projects.

How will public feedback affect the future of Healthwatch Reading?

Your feedback will help the councils decide if a single Healthwatch funded by less money is the best way to provide the service, and who should provide that service.

Here are some questions that might help you decide your feedback:

  • If you’ve been personally helped by us, what has been important to you?
  • Are we easy to visit in the community? Can you contact us easily?
  • Have we come to visit you when needed?
  • Do we have good local knowledge? Have we told you other sources of advice if we can’t help you with your query?
  • Do we help you resolve your concerns or complaints?
  • Have we listened without judgement?
  • Have we treated your information confidentially?
  • Have you heard us speak up for local people at local public meetings, council meetings or NHS meetings?
  • Do we visit your community group or events?
  • Do you feel confident we will challenge local services and decision-makers?
  • Have we removed barriers to you having your say – have we provided interpreters or easy-read information, or given you time to have your say?
  • Do we keep you up to date through regular newsletters, tweets, or news on our website?

Thank you for your involvement and feedback – please contact us if you have any more questions.