Headlines: July 5th, 2005

Nine local authorities have each been awarded up to 20,000 pounds to carry out innovative action learning projects in the field of health scrutiny. The projects are part of the ‘Health Scrutiny Support Programme funded by the Department of Health and administered by the Centre for Public Scrutiny. It gives three years of support to local Overview and Scrutiny Committees in the field of health and healthcare. Last week the programme produced its first annual report and was praised by ministers for the practical assistance it gives to local scrutineers

The funding will go to nine Health Overview and Scrutiny Committees that have been selected to look in detail at a public health topic that affects the well-being of the local community and which was featured in the ‘Choosing Health’ white paper. The selected committees will test and evaluate their health scrutiny processes and share lessons learned with councils across the country.

The money is the second of three rounds of Action Learning awards made by the Centre for Public Scrutiny as part of the Programme, which is designed to increase capacity as non-executive members develop their powers to scrutinise health and healthcare. Other support available under the programme includes a
toolkit to help them assess their own effectiveness, access to a team of experts, a network for OSC Chairs, an online ‘helpdesk’ offering advice and a range of practical guides.

The selected authorities are Essex County Council, which will look into diet, nutrition and exercise;
Gloucestershire County Council for supporting drug users; Kent County CouncilĀ  for preventing disease through physical activity; the London Borough of Merton for community leadership to improve health; Tower Hamlets for delivering ‘Choosing Health’; Sheffield City Council for work on child and adolescent
mental health; South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough for engaging communities to improve health; Stockport Borough for tackling inequalities in a deprived ward and Telford and Wrekin, which will look into alcohol prevention and treatment.

The projects will make use of innovative mechanisms to ensure public needs are being met through local healthcare provision. For example councilors in Gloucestershire will partner former drug users to engage with target groups and in Tower Hamlets an e-panel of residents will help to inform local health
priorities with results being reported through a ‘blog’.

CfPS Health Scrutiny Programme Manager, Tim Gilling, said the action learning projects were an important part of the wider support programme and generated lessons to share nationally. Within the wider support programme, he said, more than a third of scrutiny committees were working with a dedicated advisory team.