Today (12th August) Calderdale Council Adults Health and Social Care Scrutiny Panel (SP) will decide how to respond to the public petition that calls on the SP to:
- Hold a formal enquiry into Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS providers’ proposals to close / downgrade one or both A&E departments in Halifax and Huddersfield and the associated NHS and social care reconfiguration proposals (“Right Care Right Time Right Place”)
- Call in all 5 local NHS organisations to explain their proposals, their evidence base and how public, community groups’ and staff views have been sought, documented and used
- Invite the public to take part and state their views
The Scrutiny Officer’s advice is that the SP should pass the buck to the so-called People’s Commission and refuse to act on the petition.
As the petition organiser, on behalf of the 118 petitioners, I ask the Scrutiny Panel to reject the Scrutiny Officer’s advice and agree to act on the petition.
Scrutiny Officer hasn’t reported any legal impediments to acting on petition
When we presented the petition to the SP at its first meeting, the SP accepted and noted it, but asked the Scrutiny Officer to investigate whether acting on it would in any way jeopardise the Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee review of the formal commissioning proposals, scheduled for September, and any possible referral of the proposals to the Secretary of State.
The Scrutiny Officer’s advice to the 12th August SP meeting makes no mention of any such investigation or its outcome.
Two reasons present themselves: either he didn’t investigate this issue, in which case he has failed to act on the instructions of the SP; or he did and found that acting on the petition would not create any impediment to the JHOSC’s work, and for some reason sees fit to withhold this information.
Of course there could be other reasons.
I hope the SP meeting will get to the bottom of this question.
Passing the buck to the powerless Commission
Instead of answering the SP’s question, the Scrutiny Officer’s advice just says that the People’s Commission should act on the petition.
This is clearly impossible, since the People’s Commission has no powers to hold a formal enquiry or to call in the NHS organisations.
This is why the petitioners addressed their request to the Scrutiny Panel, which is the Council body with the statutory powers to hold the local NHS organisations to account in a formal process of enquiry.
The Scrutiny Officer’s advice is based on his assertion that,
“…Members of Council see the People’s Commission as the way in which they wish the health and social needs of Calderdale residents to be examined. It is suggested that the Adults Health and Social Care Scrutiny Panel should acknowledge this and receive updates on the work of the People’s Commission rather than instigating separate enquiries.”
This is a questionable assertion on at least two grounds.
One is that not all Councillors expected the so-called People’s Commission to end up with the terms of reference and membership that it has. Plain Speaker is aware that there is a gap between what at least some Councillors thought they were voting for, and what they got.
The second is that there was no suggestion to Councillors at any stage that I’m aware of, that the so-called People’s Commission should usurp the statutory functions of the Scrutiny Panel.
The Commission’s task of asking the public what kind of NHS and social care it wants is totally different from the Scrutiny Panel’s role of scrutinising the proposals of the Council’s NHS partners.
In my opinion, this distinction should remain clear.
This is why, on behalf of the petitioners, I ask the Scrutiny Panel to reject the Scrutiny Officer’s advice, and agree to act on the petition.
It is even more important now than it was when people signed the petition just a few weeks ago.
Calderdale Council’s Adults Health and Social Care Scrutiny Panel meets at 6pm in Halifax Town Hall, Tuesday 12th August.
You can read the Scrutiny Officer’s advice here (downloadable file: Relationship between Scrutiny Panel and the People’s Commission)