During 2013 there will be a transition from local involvement networks (LINks) to Healthwatch (HW). The responsibilities of these bodies, most of which remains unchanged, may be summarised as follows -
These five roles could hardly better describe the established activities of Carers in Partnership. The common feature of CiP’s members is that they support users of the mental health service, one of several particular groups identified by LINks. Some care also for someone with a physical disability, or with the problems of increasing age. CiP therefore feels it has something to offer towards the generic ‘carer’ agenda as well. HW will retain all the roles and powers of LINks, but a new responsibility will be added. They are required either to provide, or to contract for use by the public, an advocacy service to support people with complaints against the NHS. In fulfilling the roles listed above, CiP carers sometimes find need to report weaknesses in the service. Most try to present these situations as a challenge rather than as a complaint, criticism or carping. The role many carers have been fulfilling for years has much in common with the predicted need for the new Independent Complaints Advisory Service (ICAS).
CiP would like to work with local Healthwatch bodies to contribute to their social research, particularly for the mental health sector, but possibly among the wider population of carers as well. Recent work is described below.
Over the years since it was formed, CiP has become, in some ways, an advocate for mental health carers as they volunteer their support towards improvement of the services made available to people facing the same sort of problems as their own family member. Service providers and commissioners have gradually gained comfort to invite inputs from carers in general and from such a representative body as CiP in particular. CiP has accumulated consultation skills to the extent that members can now lead consultative forums not only among carers, but with service users, third sector bodies active in MH, and with staff of providers and commissioners.
Various mechanisms for community engagement have been followed by the bodies successively charged with that responsibility - local health councils, patient and public involvement (PPI) boards and most recently local involvement networks (LINks). The sector is now engaged in the transition to Health-Watch. The local authorities charged with commissioning Health-Watch are required to contract the service from an incorporated body. The new HW providers bodies will have a responsibility to arrange a new service for complaints advocacy. Among the sectors for which HW will be expected to ensure satisfactory community consultation arrangements are in place are a) carers and b) those receiving mental health services. CiP has extensive experience of facilitating community involvement in both sectors, so may have much to offer the bodies that are set up to deliver Health-Watch local.