To receive a report regarding local Healthwatch for Reading and Wokingham. (20 mins)
The Committee received a report regarding Healthwatch services for Reading and Wokingham.
During the discussion of this item the following points were made:
· Under the Health and Social Care Act 2012 local authorities were required to establish a Local Healthwatch (LHW) in their areas as a consumer champion for healthcare and social care services.
· Reading Borough Council and Wokingham Borough Council had undertaken a public consultation between 19 December 2017 and 6 February 2018 on a proposal to commission a LHW service for both areas at a cost of £173,000. 109 responses had been received as well as a number of letters. Overall 58% of consultation respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the proposal to bring together the Reading and Wokingham Healthwatch Services as a single service. Consultation feedback highlighted that many people were keen to stress the importance and value of a Local Healthwatch having a very local identity.
· Hayley Rees, Category Manager Prevention & Early Intervention outlined the two main options proposed post consultation:
Ø Option 1: To continue to work in partnership with Reading Borough Council on a single commissioning exercise to secure a Local Healthwatch service across Reading and Wokingham;
Ø Option 2: Wokingham Borough Council (WBC) to undertake a commissioning exercise to secure a Local Healthwatch service across Wokingham – with a local contract and local contract monitoring.
· The Category Manager Prevention & Early Intervention commented that should Option 2 proceed the Council would need to do more work with the current Healthwatch provider regarding costings of elements of the service.
· Alternative options which had been considered and which were less supported were highlighted including:
Ø Recommissioning Local Healthwatch services for Reading and for Wokingham as a completely unified service;
Ø Working in partnership with Reading Borough Council to commission a Healthwatch function through a single framework for services to be delivered in both areas. Under this option, two ‘lots’ could be specified and potential providers would be invited to bid to deliver a Local Healthwatch service for Wokingham or a Local Healthwatch service for Reading or both;
Ø Each Council to re-commission its own Local Healthwatch service, offering contracts for 80% of the current price to secure savings. This would result in two very small contracts with providers having less resilience to changes such as staff absence or turnover.
· Members were asked for their views on the two main options.
· Councillor Smith commented that he felt that Option 1 should not be proceeded with. He went on to question why the consultation had finished in February when the current contract ceased on 31 March. The Category Manager Prevention & Early Intervention stated that a wider review of the voluntary sector, including Healthwatch services, had begun in March 2017. This had covered 35 services and had taken place over two phases. A report had been taken to Executive and it had been agreed that transitional arrangements could be put in place to secure procurement arrangements if required, on the outcome of the review. Some of the recommendations regarding the Local Healthwatch had been delayed due to changes in senior management. The Interim Director People Services assured the Committee that as accountable officer he was ensuring that this was being progressed.
· Councillor Blumenthal asked who had proposed the joint commissioning of the Reading and Wokingham Healthwatch services. The Category Manager Prevention & Early Intervention indicated that the Berkshire councils met regularly to discuss joint commissioning. Initial proposals had included West Berkshire Council who had not wished to proceed with this option. Discussions had continued with Reading Borough Council.
· The Committee felt that Members should have been informed earlier in the process. It was noted that a paper had been circulated to the Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee in November 2017.
· Councillor Blumenthal questioned who would take the decision regarding how to proceed and was informed that it would be the Interim Director of People Services in consultation with the relevant Executive Member.
· Councillor Soane asked about the turnout at the meetings with the public and providers regarding proposals. Kim Wilkins, Specialist Strategy & Commissioning (People) indicated that attendance had been very low. Members asked for information such as a breakdown of the demographics of those who had responded.
· Councillor Jones commented that he felt that the current provider should be continued with and the budget increased. He asked when the Healthwatch funding budget had last been increased. The Category Manager Prevention & Early Intervention commented that the contract had begun in 2013 and that the budget had not been increased since. Nationally, Healthwatch funding had reduced by 19.9%. In addition funding for many other voluntary sector organisations had reduced.
· Members asked what procurement regulations meant that the contract could not simply be renewed. The Category Manager Prevention & Early Intervention stated that the Council’s Constitution stated that contracts over £50,000 must be put out to market and tested. This reflected current procurement legislation. The Committee requested updates on the procurement process.
· The direct award of a 6 month block contract to the current service provider was noted. Some Members felt that a longer period of time should be agreed. The Interim Director of People Services indicated that 6 months was in line with formal due process and was proportionate.
· Councillor Richards asked whether there had been complaints regarding service quality and was informed that there had not.
· Members emphasised that the delivery of the Healthwatch service relied greatly on the support of volunteers.
· The Interim Director of People Services emphasised that Wokingham was a small unitary council and the worst funded local authority in the country. The public sector landscape was changing and the Council had to be sure that it received the best return on its investments and the best outcome for its residents.
· Councillor Kaiser asked why joint commissioning with the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council had not been considered. Officers indicated that there had been discussions 18 months previously regarding a cross Berkshire Healthwatch service but this was not considered consistent with the Sustainable Transformation Plan footprint. Bracknell Forest Council and Royal Borough Windsor and Maidenhead Council had worked together.
· Councillor Jarvis commented that Reading and Wokingham had very different demographics and questioned the viability of bringing together the Reading and Wokingham Healthwatch Services as a single service.
· The Specialist Strategy & Commissioning (People) emphasised that the functions of the Healthwatch service were mandatory but that the model of delivery would vary between areas.
1) Option one for the commissioning of the statutory LHW for Wokingham be noted and that it be noted that the Committee did not support this option;
2) Option two for the commissioning of the statutory LHW for Wokingham be noted;
3) the direct award of a 6 month block contract to the current service provider, Healthwatch Wokingham Borough CIC, to ensure that Wokingham Borough Council can continue to deliver the Healthwatch Service - which is a statutory duty under the Care Act, be noted;
4) Hayley Rees and Kim Wilkins be thanked for their presentation.