Headlines: December 12th, 2005

A guide has been produced to improve the way in which local authority health scrutiny committees work with health bodies around ‘substantial variations and developments to health services’. The health bodies are obliged to consult scrutiny committees about such developments and the guide sets out to resolve challenges faced by both sides.The guide has been produced in response to research that has shown that while three quarters of scrutiny committees have been consulted about substantial variations and developments – SVDs – only a third have agreements with local health authorities about what constitutes a substantial change in a local context. The research also showed both parties in the process facing resource challenges around SVD consultations.

The guide, from the Centre for Public Scrutiny aims to clarify the role of health scrutiny committees in the consultation process and to encourage and enable health bodies and scrutiny committees to reach local agreements. It also seeks to help the health organisations and the scrutinisers to understand their roles and suggests ways of joint working to improve their contribution to public accountability in the health service. Finally it outlines criteria and protocols for joint working based on legislation and the experience of scrutiny committees and NHS bodies form across the country.

It cites examples of effective working, including a Cambridgeshire County Council-led review of proposals to redevelop and relocate Papworth Hospital. The review involved representatives of eight health scrutiny committees and was focused on outcomes for patients and carers and on the effectiveness of public consultation. It was felt all parties benefited from liaison between the Health Trust and the scrutiny committee, including the establishment of named ‘link officers’ in the Trust. There was also close collaboration during the review, with the Trust’s public consultation meetings being used to gather evidence for the scrutiny committee.

The Centre for Public Scrutiny’s Health Scrutiny Programme Manager, Tim Gilling, said substantial variations needed to be carefully co-coordinated to ensure that scrutiny was effective, efficient and led to improved patient experience. Mr Gilling added, “The successful modernisation of health services to meet the needs of local people and improve patient experiences relies on developing good relationships, and we hope this guide will help facilitate that process.”