Informing and influencing the new local health landscape

tom elkinsBefore joining the Compact Voice team, I worked for a number of different health charities - focussing on campaigns work, trying to tackle problems with access to treatment, rights for disabled people, and local differences in the provision of both health and social care.

Moving from such specific policy topics to the much broader subject areas that the Compact covers was a challenge, and one it took me a while to get used to.

I always tried to keep up with what was happening in the health landscape, particularly around the debates concerning the controversial Health and Social Care Act. I’d previously worked very closely with local campaigning groups, or with particular Primary Care Trusts, so understanding what impact these new policies would mean was both personally of interest to me, as well as relevant to the work Compact Voice was undertaking on strengthening local partnerships.

During the course of these debates, I attended a number of meetings with local Compact groups, and the topic of health reform was frequently mentioned.

Many people had expressed concern that representatives from local health organisations weren’t signed up to their Compact, and we reflected that view back to Andrew Lansley, then Secretary of State for Health (and as opposition MP, one of the original architects of the Compact Advocacy Programme).

He provided reassurance that the role of the Compact was important, stating that ‘people working within NHS organisations [should] truly recognise and embrace the principles set out within it’. He also stated:

“I would encourage all NHS organisations in England to have signed up to a local Compact and use this to guide local arrangements for partnership working.”

This commitment, and the departmental business plan from the Department of Health (one of the best produced, in my opinion) provided much-needed reassurance that the important role of the Compact was being taken seriously during the reforms (with a personal wish that this role was more frequently mentioned in policy documents – a simple change that would show commitment not just from DH, but if repeated, from across other government departments too).

But the findings from our most recent survey of local Compacts highlighted that more needed to be done to help groups both understand and engage with this new landscape. 55% of respondents to the survey told us that they had not engaged at all in any elements of the new health structure. Only a quarter of groups were engaged with shadow health and well-being boards, and even less in joint-strategic needs assessments.

Based on the feedback from our members that there was a gap in our library of publications, we wanted to help provide encouragement and understanding about this new landscape.

This led to Compact Voice working with a number of different organisations, including DH, NAVCA, Regional Voices, and many local groups to develop a guide which will hopefully both clarify and empower.

Since being launched last month, we have received lots of positive feedback about its content. For many local voluntary sector organisations, the new health landscape offers the best potential for partnership working with the statutory sector, and it is important that opportunities aren’t lost in the potential confusion about who is doing what and with who.

We are planning a conference as part of Compact Week this November, with the intention to host a workshop which will explore these issues further.

I hope that many of you will be able to attend, and in the meantime, if you have any examples of how things are going, what is happening in your local area, or what we could do to make this resource as useful as possible, please don’t hesitate to let us know.

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