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Exodus leaves Oxfordshire patients’ watchdog ‘falling apart’
A NEW patient watchdog has been described as “falling apart before our eyes” after two more members stepped down.
Healthwatch Oxfordshire formed in April, but an election only filled nine of 13 board places and its director has announced she will leave the organisation.
Now, two more board members, Amanda Smithdale and Jamie Miller, have announced they will leave because they cannot commit enough time to the group.
Healthwatch Oxfordshire was set up with a legal duty to hold health and social care bosses on the new GP-led Clinical Commissioning Group to account.
Oxfordshire Rural Communities Council won an interim one-year £320,000 contract using taxpayer cash from Oxfordshire County Council on March 31 to run the group, but it has been beset by difficulties ever since.
Susanna Pressel, a member of the county’s joint health overview and scrutiny committee, said: “It’s alarming to see how Healthwatch seems to be falling apart before our eyes.”
Outgoing director Rosalind Pearce said: “We have had two members of the board stand down. The reason is the work that needs to be done on the board is more than they originally thought it was going to be.
“They are both very busy people and rather than not being able to do it as well as they wanted, they thought it was best to stand down at the beginning.
“It is disappointing, but I respect their decision and thank them for their honesty.”
She added: “I do still feel very positive about Healthwatch Oxfordshire and what it is looking to do in the future and what it is getting involved in now.”
She joined as its £40,000-a-year director in May – a month after the group formed.
Healthwatch’s predecessor, Oxfordshire LINk, championed patients’ rights after launching in 2008. It was scrapped when CCGs were set up to run local health services.
Ann Tomline, from Long Wittenham, has put her name forward to fill one of the unfilled board positions.
She said: “Healthwatch should be marvellous, if they can get it going, and going well. It should have some teeth and should be able to actually sort things out if it receives complaints from the public.”
Oxford East MP Andrew Smith said: “Hard questions have to be asked about why it is proving so difficult to get this body established on an effective basis.
“I think there is a strong case for county councillors undertaking this role directly, co-opting patient and social care representatives.
“This would save on the extra costs of having this additional body, and would put democratically accountable representatives in the driving seat.”
Neither Amanda Smithdale or Jamie Miller was available for comment.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “We have introduced Healthwatch to make sure people have a say about how local health and care services are set up and run. We expect local authorities to make sure Healthwatch is up and running in their area.”
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