The Welsh Government’s proposal to get rid of an independent patients’ voice is a backward step at a time when health services need scrutinising.
That’s the view of Plaid Cymru’s North Wales regional AM Llyr Gruffydd in responding to a plans by Labour to scrap Community Health Councils in Wales.
These are statutory regional bodies that represent patients’ concerns and act as an independent watchdog to monitor health boards. In North Wales alone, they carried out more than 500 unannounced ward visits in the past year and often raise matters as a result of concerns expressed by staff as well as patients.
Llyr Gruffydd, who raised the matter in the Assembly today (Wednesday) said: “Having met with North Wales CHC chair Jackie Allen and chief executive Geoff Ryall-Harvey, I’m very concerned that the Welsh Government is attempting to gag our independent patients’ voice. The consultation states that the Welsh Government is looking at a single centralised body similar to that in Scotland. That body, the Scottish Health Council has been described by critics as a ‘toothless hamster’. I’m deeply concerned that scrapping the CHCs is a retrograde step when we could be using their skills and expertise to develop a more effective body that could expand into scrutinising residential and nursing homes as well as the standard of care in the community.
“Building on the CHCs rather than abolishing them seems to be a far more effective way to strengthen the patients’ voice in social care as well as health provision.”
He added that CHCs in England had been scrapped by Labour but this was now something leading politicians regretted: “The Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham has questioned the wisdom of abolishing CHCs, saying ‘the abolition of Community Health Councils was not the Government’s finest moment … it seems we failed to come up with something to replace CHCs that did the job well’. Furthermore Lord Francis in his damning report on Mid Staffs healthcare criticised the abolition of CHCs, saying that their replacements had been less effective in providing an effective patients’ voice. Surely the Government in Wales does not want to replicate that sort of mess?
“Many parts of the NHS in Wales have had their problems recently and having independent scrutiny and a watchdog that isn’t answerable to the Government is essential. Rather than gag this important voice, we should be looking to strengthen it and I will be continuing to make the case for retention of the CHCs. If the Labour Government choose to ignore that and centralise this new body I will be pushing for any new patients’ voice to be based in north Wales. The perception of devolution only working for a part of Wales must be challenged.”
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