Health and Social Care Bill

Memorandum submitted by Devon Health and Social Care Forum (HS 36)

1.    The Devon Health and Social Care Forum comprises entirely volunteers, who give their time to their community voluntarily and without payment. It is, therefore concerned that any social policy should aim to encourage and support volunteering and not deter, let alone alienate, volunteers from coming forward and serving their local and the wider community.


2.    In its response to the Government Health White Paper, the Forum drew attention to the fact that neither the existing LINks nor the support organisations, the Hosts, were subject to the Freedom of Information Act.  This exclusion of accountability has led to a situation where a Host and LINk together may collect data about Public attitudes and deep concern, say to the reform of maternity services for a community, and transmit that data set to an NHS provider, in this case a Primary Care Trust, which then uses that data set to make certain claims about Public attitudes to proposed service changes, say to an OSC.  Neither the Host nor the LINk are willing to release information about the methodology of the data collection, including the instrument or instruments used to collect the data and its scientific rigour, nor the views attributed to the public, on the basis of the data. 

In a modern democracy this is clearly not acceptable.


2.1    It is thus important that this loophole in accountability and transparency is not continued under Health Watch.  It should be a fundamental principle that where responsibility for the disbursement of public money is delegated to another body, be it a charity, a social enterprise, a private business or some other body, it is the logic of a democracy that the organisation concerned should be openly and publicly accountable for the way, in which that money has been spent.  Any recalcitrance to be so open and public would need to be subject to a request under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.


3.    The government is quite rightly proposing that provision of some services under the provisions of the Health Act should be opened up to "any willing provider".  The Forum strongly supports the introduction of greater competition in the provision of health and social care services.  The reason is obvious, namely that competition should bring greater value for money and, therefore, lead to the provision of more services for the same quantum of funding.  For the reasons given above, however, it is important that those services and the disbursement of public money associated with them are fully open to public scrutiny.  This can only happen in the experience of the Forum, if those organisations, be they charities, voluntary bodies, social enterprises or private businesses are also subject to Freedom of Information.


3.1    The Forum is aware of the difficulty associated with the amendment of the Freedom of Information Act, which might be necessary to achieve this goal. In this context it may be of interest to the Committee to examine copy of a letter, which the Forum has received in response to its query of the Minister of Health.


4.       In any case by whatever mechanism, the basic principle should be that with the transmission of public funds to any other body should be transmitted a commitment to full openness and accountability for the utilisation of public funds.

February 2011