Caroline Norrie is a Research Fellow at Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London. She writes about her experiences of volunteering for Wandsworth Healthwatch. (908 words)
I first heard about Wandsworth Healthwatch when I randomly attended a meeting about changes in my local hospital. It was a heated meeting where the hospital CEO was grilled by attendees of all ages and backgrounds about controversial issues such as privatising certain areas of service provision, the cost of auditors and care quality on specific wards. I’ve been regularly involved with Wandsworth Healthwatch since then and have found it a rewarding and interesting experience.
There is a local Healthwatch in every one of the 152 local authorities (LAs) in England and they are independent organisations allocated funds to bring the service user voice to all areas of health and social care provision. Most have paid staff (not usually more than 2-3 full time equivalent) and are funded by the LA. Around the country Healthwatch members are continuously engaged in keeping an eye on local services and reporting back service users’ views to providers, the NHS and local authority.
Personally, I have been a member of the Healthwatch ‘Enter and View’ team for several years. Healthwatch ‘enter and view’ teams have a statutory right to enter publicly-funded institutions such as care homes and hospitals and speak to people about the care they are receiving. The Wandsworth team does not carry out unannounced visits, but instead focuses on areas where service users are seldom consulted about their views or where there is particular demand for feedback, for example high levels of complaints or new ways of providing services. Visits are carried out in as unobtrusive a way as possible with the aim being to work together with providers to improve outcomes for service users rather being another layer of intrusive scrutiny. Reports on services are written up by volunteers and are sent to providers, commissioners (LA and Clinical Commissioning Group) and the regulator (Care Quality Commission). Service providers are required to respond to the Healthwatch report within 20 days; both the report and response are available online.
I love attending ‘enter and view’ visits as it is a chance to meet a wide range of people—both staff and service users. We listen and record complaints and compliments, about such things as home care services, new extra-care facilities or care home quality. Currently, we are investigating access to healthcare for prisoners at Wandsworth prison. As a researcher at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit at King’s College London, I also find these visits useful for highlighting how new policies can impact professionals and service users.
Being a member of a Healthwatch has offered me the chance to learn about many different areas of service provision in my local borough of Wandsworth. As well as taking the opportunity to influence local policies, Healthwatch provides useful opportunities for volunteers. Each local Healthwatch organisation is, for example, free to choose what activities it carries out and what to focus on in their local area. Most are involved in collating surveys, holding interviews, conducting focus groups, signposting services, consulting with local support groups, writing up reports of findings and attending meetings with LA departments to offer their input across different areas. So, whether you are interested in gaining work experience of event organisation, administration, research and analysis or policy; or you have a specific interest in improving a specific service—your Healthwatch can often be a great first stop.
Healthwatch groups have been around in different forms for many years as statutory bodies charged with collecting public feedback and giving input on local health and social care in order to improve services. Created in 1974, Community Health Councils (CHC) were replaced by Public and Patient Involvement Forums in 2003, which turned into Local Involvement Networks in 2008, and finally have been Healthwatch organisations since 2013. Today’s Healthwatch organisations have been accused of lacking teeth in comparison to CHCs, and criticised for having an inherent conflict of interest as they are funded by LAs while also being required to critique the local services (Carter & Martin, 2016). Their effectiveness has also been questioned in the light of Mid-Staffordshire and Winterbourne View. However, their role in alerting the press and public to poor care has also been recently applauded demonstrating their use as an alternative, independent option for commenting on services (Sandeman, 2017).
Caroline Norrie is a Wandsworth Healthwatch member and a Research Fellow in the Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London and joint book review editor for Ageing and Society.
Carter, P. & Martin, G. (2016) Challenges Facing Healthwatch, a New Consumer Champion in England. International Journal of Health Policy and Management, 5, 259-263.
Healthwatch, (2016) Healthwatch England Strategy 2014-16. Accessed 20/09/2017.
Sandeman, G., (2017) The Guardian, [Healthwatch] Report highlights failings of home care services in England: Healthwatch England finds people going weeks without showers and cared for by workers unable to make a bed, 24 August 2017. Accessed 20/09/2017.