Scottish Health Council - the "toothless hamster"

Written by Tom Freeman on 27 January 2017

The Scottish Health Council had a torrid time in front of MSPs this week. Director Richard Norris and chair Pam Whittle attended the Health and Sport committee meeting and found themselves defending the role of the body, which sits in Healthcare Improvement Scotland.

It was set up to improve the involvement of patients in decisions about services made by health boards. In practice this has meant deciding when such decisions are to be referred up to ministers as 'major changes'. It has done that six times out of a possible 27.

Committee convener Neil Findlay questioned the body's independence and value for money.


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“I’m sensing frustration from committee members," he told Norris. 

"You have a £2.3m budget and are looking for extra funds. Over the last two years you’ve engaged with 1180 people. Over those years with 14 offices, you’ve consulted with just over 1000 people.

“I’m failing to see what we get for our money. I think you are a toothless hamster. I don’t see where you are adding value.”

Health board moves to consolidate services and beds in different parts of the country are being resisted by people.

The argument for NHS service centralisation is to drive up clinical quality, while shifting resources into primary care will inevitably need a reduction in acute services.

But campaigners see cuts, driven by health boards' requirement to make 'efficiency savings'. They feel distant from decision making. Wasn't the Scottish Health Council set up to stop that very thing happening?

“Our role is not to campaign on behalf of local groups,” Norris told MSPs. 

But shouldn't they at least listen to them?

Image: Toothless hamster - credit Lottie

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