Fears of lack of scrutiny as independent health services watchdog is disbanded
Dale Spridgeon, local democracy reporter
Fears have been aired at a reduction of independent scrutiny after the axing of an independent public health services watchdog.
The North Wales Community Health Council (NWCHC) is being disbanded after almost half a century on Friday, March 31.
The volunteer-led scrutiny body is being reorganised under the Welsh Government’s ‘Llais’ initiative, operational from April 1, 2023.
Among the organisation’s many campaigns it helped save the women and children unit at Glan Clwyd Hospital, and raised issues over vascular services, which prompted hundreds to attend public meetings
NWCHC is being replaced by the Citizen’s Voice Body (CVB) for health and social care, chaired by university Professor Medwin Hughes and seven board members.
“It will be a new independent organisation to representing the voices of the people of Wales for health and social care matters,” the Welsh Government’s website states.
Minister for Health and Social Services Eluned Morgan said she “looked forward” to seeing how they will help shape the new body.
But members of NWCHC are concerned at the loss of “independent” public scrutiny.
Geoff Ryall-Harvey, chief officer of NWCHC, said: “We’re very disappointed at being shut down. They’ve been trying to abolish us since 2016.
“We will be reorganised into ‘Llais.’ It will still have volunteers but is a Welsh Government run organisation, with decisions taken by a central board.
“Although there is still a lot of uncertainty how things will be organised.
“The NWCHC is a truly autonomous body, we can enter hospitals and care facilities unannounced.
“It’s been in an important public scrutiny role for 49, years helping to provide NHS direction, policy and highlighting patient concerns.”
“NWCHC has helped change the landscape of the NHS, given a voice to patients.”
Over a 38-year involvement, Mr Ryall-Harvey has helped with campaigns such as the Alder Hey children’s organs scandal, the Harold Shipman deaths and the Ysbyty Glan Clwyd’s Tawel Fan, dementia ward investigation.
He added “NWCHC is still doing as much it can up to March 31.
It is currently working on its ‘Our Lives on Hold ’ project, currently seeking information from patients, carers and families waiting for operations.
“We will be around and after April 1, but working for the new body. We’ll see how it goes.”
Anglesey Councillor Dylan Rees also tweeted his dismay, recently.
“A bittersweet gathering today, we said farewell to staff at NWCHC following the Welsh Government’s bizarre decision to abolish such councils.
“Huge thanks to Geoff Ryall-Harvey and team for their fantastic work in being such an effective health watchdog.”
Arfon Jones, former North Wales Police Commissioner, and former Executive Member of the North Wales Community Health Council, echoed his views: “With the abolition and demise of the Community Health Councils in Wales on April 1, there is now no scrutiny or accountability whatsoever of health services in Wales.
“The Community Health Councils were the ‘patients voice’ for Welsh NHS patients for nigh on 50 years.
“They carried out hundreds of unannounced visits of health settings every year and improved patient’s experience of health services in Wales for thousands…
“Sadly this will no longer be the case as we await the whitewash that we fear will replace it in name only.”
Gill Harris, Interim Chief Executive of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, said:
“The North Wales Community Health Council has over many years carried out robust and effective independent scrutiny of the Health Board while providing a strong voice on behalf of the patients it serves.
“Its forthright but constructive feedback has played a crucial role in helping us deliver on our shared aim of improving healthcare services for the people of North Wales.
“We wish all those involved in the North Wales Community Health Council well in the future and look forward to forging strong working relationships with Llais in the coming weeks and months.”
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