Dr Chris Day has resigned as the Chair of Calderdale Healthwatch Programme Board. His resignation took place at the Board’s meeting on 13th January, after the Board voted in favour of a motion to exclude the public from the meeting.
Dr Day said,
“I opposed this motion and took a vote, but the motion was carried and I stood down as chair of the Board. I explained that I believed transparency and openness were being rejected in this motion and that I believed them to be such fundamental operating principles that I could not continue in this role. The public were removed from the meeting.”
Before the Board excluded the public from its meeting, Dr Day had presented a papercommenting on the current crisis in Calderdale Healthwatch. With this paper – a public document handed out at the meeting – Dr Day had aimed to start a discussion that would make sure that Calderdale Healthwatch operates in a transparent and properly accountable manner, in accord with the Nolan principles of standards in public life.
Dr Day’s paper was prompted by his perception that the Calderdale Healthwatch Programme Board (HPB) had failed in its responsibility and duty to line manage the Calderdale Healthwatch officers, including the Calderdale Healthwatch Coordinator Soo Nevision, who are all employed by Voluntary Action Calderdale.
Dr Day’s paper says that in many instances Soo Nevison and the Voluntary Action Calderdale office have overridden HPB decisions and directives and that this is directly contrary to the Local Government Association’s statement that:
“Local authorities are required to ensure that their local Healthwatch is run in an open and transparent manner and also that it is representative of its area. It must also be accountable in a number of ways and to different constituencies.”
“An overarching consideration for all forms of governance is that the local authority must include in their contract requirements to ensure that LHW acts in an open and transparent manner and is representative of its area.”
(Local Government Association, Establishing Local Healthwatch – Governance)
Calderdale MBC commissioned Voluntary Action Calderdale (VAC) to act as the host organisation for Calderdale Healthwatch. As such, Calderdale Council is responsible for making sure that VAC complies with its contractual requirements in relation to Calderdale Healthwatch.
UCV Plain Speaker invited Soo Nevison to comment, but at the time of publishing this report, Soo Nevison had not replied to the invitation to comment.
She has since emailed that this was because she has been off sick from work and was not at the Calderdale Healthwatch Programme Board meeting where Dr Day presented his paper and then resigned.
Soo Nevison commented that she is disappointed that UCV Plain Speaker published the report and Dr Day’s paper without waiting for her comments; that the article and Dr Day’s paper contain (unspecified) inaccuracies; and that she has been in the process of gathering the views of VAC staff and other Board members, in order to prepare her comments.
UCV Plain Speaker regrets that Ms Nevison was off sick and unable to comment at the time when UCV Plain Speaker published the article. UCV Plain Speaker will of course report her views of the issues raised by Dr Day’s paper and his resignation, when she communicates them.
Dr Day said,
“In the closed meeting a further proposal was put to have closed meetings alternating with open ones. It will mean that the Voluntary Action Calderdale board and supporters will now be able to select items that will be forced through without public scrutiny in the private sessions. The only safeguard now will be the small minority, including myself, who manage to survive on the board as whistle blowers.”
Dr Day’s paper proposes that the root of the problem lies in VAC’s inappropriate methods of recruiting Calderdale Healthwatch Programme Board members, creating a situation where many CHPB members experience conflicts of interest that are not dealt with in line with the requirement that the Board should operate according to the Nolan principles of standards in public life.
The voluntary sector and backdoor NHS privatisation
Dr Day believes that this is all part of the wider problem of the backdoor privatisation of the NHS through the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which came into effect in April 2013.
Andy Benson, Co-convenor of the National Coalition for Independent Action, which “aims to unite individuals and organisation who believe in genuinely independent voluntary and community action”, has noted that sections of the third sector/ voluntary sector have been big supporters of this backdoor NHS privatisation. In an Open Democracy article, Andy Benson writes,
“Charities and voluntary agencies exist to support and defend the interests of their beneficiaries – poor, ill, disabled, excluded and dispossessed people and communities. Surely voluntary agencies are at the forefront of resistance to coalition policies responsible for increasing poverty and inequality and deteriorating public services? Policies that cut rights and entitlements, and dismantle or privatise public services?
Nothing could be further from the truth. Many Voluntary Services Groups, the groups that employ staff and deliver services, see the changes as opportunities for them, rather than threats to the very people they work with and care about. These groups have been trying to place themselves at the front of the queue as contracts are tendered, producing all kinds of arguments as to why they will be better than public servants at providing these services…
Voluntary sector groups need to oppose public service privatisation and resist the use of voluntary sector groups for mainstream public service delivery… And they need to forge working links with campaigners, trades unions and others involved in the wider fight to stop cuts in entitlements, rights and access to vital services.”
Updated 15 Jan 2014 to include Soo Nevison’s emailed comments.