In a report of the Scrutiny Support Officer the Panel was advised of the recent Department of Health publication regarding Health Scrutiny.
The Panel was reminded of the response to the Department of Health consultation document relating to Health Scrutiny powers and their development as outlined in Appendix 1 of the report submitted. A full copy of the responses to the Department of Health which had been published on 14 December 2012 was provided at Appendix 2 of the report submitted.
The Department of Health's document reinforced its support for Health Scrutiny as 'an important part of the Government's commitment to place patients and the public at the centre of health services.' It also stated that 'it is a fundamental way by which democratically elected community leaders may voice the views of their constituents and hold local NHS bodies and providers of NHS and public health services to account.'
In accordance with broadened powers of Health Scrutiny the attendance of any organisation that was in receipt of NHS funds to deliver NHS services could be required.
Under previous Health Scrutiny regulations a top tier local authority was obliged to identify an Overview and Scrutiny Committee that was responsible for undertaking Health Scrutiny in its various forms. In Middlesbrough's case the Health Scrutiny Panel performed such a function. From April 2013, the Health Scrutiny power would now be given to the local authority per se and it would be for the local authority to decide how it exercised such powers as stipulated in the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Consistent with this, the power to refer matters to the Secretary of State for Health following statutory consultations now rested with the full Council as outlined in the report submitted.
It was noted that the Department of Health made it clear that it expected that local Health and Wellbeing Boards would be subject to scrutiny and would be expected to contribute to and participate in Health Scrutiny's activities. It was considered that careful consideration needed to be given by a local authority when allocating health scrutiny powers as there could potentially be issues around conflict of interests if there was close involvement with health scrutiny and the health and wellbeing boards.
Of particular note was the recognition by the Department of Health of the more proactive, enquiry-based work that Health Scrutiny undertook and had given an indication that it was keen to see it continue to develop. The Department of Health had stated that ' While recognising that the proposals under consultation related primarily to service reconfiguration and the process of referrals, respondents felt it important to not lose sight of the overview role of health scrutiny in holding the NHS to account for the quality of services they provide. The North East Regional Joint Health Scrutiny Committee, for example, wished to emphasise 'the more proactive nature of health scrutiny activity including in depth reviews of issues of local concern'. We agree, and fully support the continued scrutiny of broader system issues such as thematic reviews, pathways of care and wider access issues. This is an essential role of health scrutiny and will be fully presented within the new system.'
In considering the documentation and developing a response Members from the outset reaffirmed their belief that given such factors as the Panel's track record and level of expertise gained that there was a strong case for the continuation of a dedicated Health Scrutiny Panel.
As previously outlined in the Panels response to the Department of Health Local Authority Health Scrutiny consultation the role of Health Scrutiny was not only responding to service reconfigurations but had an important role in proactively pursuing a wide range of topics of investigation to ensure that the needs of individuals were being met.
The Panel reaffirmed its view of not supporting the proposal for referrals to the Secretary of State being made by full Council and reiterated that this should be the Health Scrutiny Panel by virtue of its detailed knowledge following in depth examination of evidence on often complex matters. Given its recognition and level of trust gained from local NHS representatives over recent years the Health Scrutiny Panel rather than a full Council was considered to be an appropriate forum for debate on often challenging issues of concern.
It was pointed out that current procedures did not preclude the opportunity for consideration and comment from the Overview and Scrutiny Board, Executive and the Council.
AGREED as follows:-
1. That the information provided be noted.
2. That the views of the Health Scrutiny Panel as outlined above and in relevant comments in its formal response to the Department of Health, Local Authority Health Scrutiny form the basis of a report to the Overview and Scrutiny Board.