Headlines: August 19th, 2008

When the newly established Local Involvement Networks identify concerns about local health or social care services, they refer the issues to the scrutiny committee of the local council. Consultations on the management the new Networks has revealed worries about a potential conflict of interest that may result form this arrangement.

A Local Involvement Network is made up of individuals and community groups who work together to improve local health and social care services. Their role is to find out what people like and dislike about local health and social care services, and to work with the people who plan and run them to help make them better. They can look into specific issues of concern to the community, like a dirty hospital and make recommendations to the people who plan and run services, and expect a response. They can also carry out spot checks.

Scrutiny committees play a crucial role in the new monitoring arrangements. Where there is concern that action is not being taken, the Network can refer the issue to the local council Overview and Scrutiny Committee. If the issue only affects the health service, the scrutiny committee is able to adopt a neutral stance and take an objective view. Where an issue involves the local social services the situation may be different, because there is a risk that some members of scrutiny committees may have a governance responsibility for the social service they are required to challenge.

The Department of Health’s response to the concerns is that it will be for the Networks themselves to decide how to tackle potential conflicts of interest. The Department points out that there can be conflict of interest in any statutory institution and for that reason, members of public bodies must declare any interests in accordance with the standards in public life such as the Nolan principles.

The consultation also revealed anxiety at the failure to include independent sector providers within the remit of the Networks. The Department has decided that for future contracts, independent providers will be brought within the monitoring arrangements. This change will allow representatives of the Networks to enter and view services under certain conditions.