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18.06.15

One in three councils cut funding to Healthwatch groups

Almost a third of local authorities are cutting the budgets of local Healthwatch groups, some by up to 50%, the health and care watchdog has warned.

The national body, Healthwatch England, has said that areas being hit include a third of the country’s troubled health economies and cover half of hospitals in special measures.

The overall Healthwatch network this year received an investment of 60p per head to make sure people’s views are listened to and their experiences are used to influence decisions.

The organisation’s research found that cuts are concentrated in 38 locations, with average budget reductions of 14% and some local groups seeing their funding cut in half. 

Healthwatch plans to use its statutory powers to challenge the 10 authorities cutting the deepest. They are:

Local Healthwatch

2015-16 Healthwatch Funding

2014-15 Healthwatch Funding

Difference between 2014-15 and 2015-16

Percentage Difference between 2014-15 and 2015-16

Hounslow

£89,378

£191,611

-£102,233

-53.4%

Blackpool*

£58,000

£120,000

-£62,000

-51.7%

Harrow

£100,000

£175,000

-£75,000

-42.9%

Leicestershire

£187,391

£275,000

-£87,609

-31.9%

Ealing

£160,300

£218,000

-£57,700

-26.5%

Bradford and District

£223,692

£303,000

-£79,308

-26.2%

Barnsley

£150,000

£201,500

-£51,500

-25.6%

Calderdale

£120,000

£150,000

-£30,000

-20.0%

Northamptonshire

£355,000

£435,000

-£80,000

-18.4%

York

£115,000

£140,000

-£25,000

-17.9%

* Blackpool council has already written to Healthwatch England confirming their intention to make more funding available to the local Healthwatch. Healthwatch England is therefore not using its statutory powers in this instance and is in contact with the council to clarify the amount of additional funding and when it will be released.

Cllr Kamaljit Kaur, Hounslow Council’s cabinet member for adult social care and health services, said that the council values the function Healthwatch provides but had been disappointed with the performance of the local group.

“So, in discussion with the local Healthwatch board, we have asked them to focus on a number of jointly agreed priorities and reduced their funding accordingly,” he added.

“We have advised them that in the event that they meet these targets to the satisfaction of ourselves, the CCG and the Health and Wellbeing Board, we will consider extending their role and funding.”

Blackpool Council are currently looking to make more money available to their local Healthwatch from an underspend by the service on its previous contract.

Cllr Graham Cain, cabinet secretary for Blackpool Council, said: “We have commissioned a new company who can continue to carry out the Healthwatch duties at the same rigorous level and offer best value for money. This is in line with the funding that we receive from the Department of Health to commission the service.”

A spokesman for Harrow Council said: “After a full year of negotiations with our local Healthwatch, against a background of austerity cuts, we agreed on annual funding that will not just continue to deliver the service here in Harrow, but improve it. We are confident the funding is ample – having just completed a competitive tender for the work, with three existing providers keen to take on the service at the new price.”

Healthwatch is urging the 10 authorities to publicly outline how they assessed the cost of delivering their local group and how they will provide assurance that it is able to deliver its statutory activities on the reduced budget. The watchdog also wants to know councils’ contingency plans should the resources provided prove ineffective.

Anna Bradley, chair of Healthwatch England, said: “On average local Healthwatch across the country receive less than the cost of single first class stamp per person to spend on ensuring the views, experiences and needs of the public drive change in how services are delivered.

“So to see even this modest amount being cut by up to 50% in some areas raises serious questions and will undoubtedly impact on the effectiveness of local Healthwatch.

“We recognise that local authorities are having to cope with their own cuts but the majority of councils have recognised the value local Healthwatch bring and have managed to maintain investment.”

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