Local people are being asked if they back council-led plans to run Healthwatch Reading, and Healthwatch Wokingham, as a single organisation, to save £44,000 from local authority budgets.
There is an independent Healthwatch in every local authority area of England, funded from central government via contracts with councils. We carry out statutory functions such as visiting local services to collect patient and service user experiences, so we can campaign for improvements or highlight best practice. Healthwatch Reading is run as a standalone charity while Healthwatch Wokingham is a community interest company overseen by a charity called Help and Care. The two Healthwatch employ their own staff and decide on their own projects based on the concerns they collect from local residents.
The proposal to join the organisations has come from the councils, and not from either Healthwatch. Reading Borough Council (RBC) announced on 19 Decemember 2017 that the two councils were launching a public consultation about the plans, due to the ‘extreme financial pressure’ that RBC and Wokingham Borough Council were under and also because they believed there was overlap in the work each organisation did.
The current budget for both Healthwatch totals £217,000, but this would be cut to around £173,000 for a single organisation. If the councils go ahead with this plan, it is expected they will put a new contract for a joint Healthwatch service out to tender, which could involve organisations competing to win the contract.
The consultation runs until 6 February 2018 and involves an online questionnaire, or people can attend council-run public meetings in Reading on 15 January and 2 February 2018, and one in Wokingham on 18 January 2018.
Healthwatch Reading’s trustees will meet in early January 2018 to discuss its response to the consultation.