Residents in Reading and Wokingham have raised concerns that they will lose a locally-focused health and care watchdog if their councils go ahead with a plan to make two separate Healthwatch work as one organisation.
One Reading person used Twitter to give feedback about the plans: “Personal&professional service I’ve received fr @HealthwatchRdg has been helpful for my recovery after being hurt badly by [local NHS] service. It should remain local to serve vulnerable ppl who can’t travel. Local knowledge&connections r important for efficiency&effectiveness.’
Other comments, questions and concerns have also been put forward at various public meetings – one in Reading on 15 January 2018, another on 18 January in Wokingham, and also on 2 February 2018 at the Reading Older People’s Working Group. The meetings are part of a public consultation running until 6 February 2017, on council plans to make Healthwatch Reading and Healthwatch Wokingham, work as one organisation, to save at least £44,000. The two organisations carry out the same statutory role of giving local people a say over local NHS and social care services, but have different management, staffing, and ways of working. Each Healthwatch also has different campaigning priorities, based on the needs and preferences of their own communities.
People at the Reading public meetings said:
- Healthwatch must remain local
- Healthwatch Reading speaks up for local people and holds services to account
- Healthwatch Reading is approachable and independent
- Healthwatch Reading tells local people what’s going on with their local services through its regular monthly newsletter
- Healthwatch Reading provides support on individual casework
- The savings proposed do not justify the time and expense involved in creating a new single organisation
- If the plans go ahead, will there be a Healthwatch office in each area?
- Why has Healthwatch West Berkshire not been included in the plans, especially as the multiple NHS funding and planning bodies across Reading, Wokingham, and West Berkshire, have merged into one single group?
- Healthwatch Reading has already had its budget cut, so this proposal would mean a further reduction, while Healthwatch Wokingham has not had any funding cut previously
- The geography and population of each area are very different so combining the service could be risky
- Reading and Wokingham borough councils’ expectations, plans, and political make-up are also different, so how will a single organisation cope with these?
- Why haven’t the councils produced a comparison of how each Healthwatch works and their impact?
At the Wokingham public meeting, people added:
- Healthwatch Wokingham has spent time building good links with its community that could be put at risk
- Healthwatch Wokingham relies on a lot of local volunteers to support its work, who might not want to be part of a bigger or remote organisation
- A new single organisation could divert money from Wokingham to Reading, because Reading has more vulnerable people needing help with NHS or care issues.
Healthwatch Reading has prepared a Q&A to help inform local people before they respond to the councils’ consultation.