New chief pledges health watchdog will have teeth

Herald Series: Reporter Tom Jennings talks to director David Roulston at the relaunch of Oxfordshire Healthwatch Reporter Tom Jennings talks to director David Roulston at the relaunch of Oxfordshire Healthwatch

THE new director of a health watchdog insisted the organisation will have teeth as he set out its plan for the next six months.

Healthwatch Oxfordshire was formed in March but has been beset by problems, including a late start and trouble filling places on its elected board.

But the vacancies have now been filled and the organisation has set out its four priorities – encouraging whistleblowers, forming residents’ groups at care homes, and setting up two separate surveys gathering evidence about patient access to GPs and the quality of home care.

Healthwatch Oxfordshire was set up as part of Government reforms to the health service and has the power to hold health and social care institutions to account by reporting them to regulators.

It is the latest incarnation of a series of watchdogs, including its predecessor Oxfordshire LiNK, aimed at representing the public’s voice.

New director David Roulston – the group’s second since it formed – said: “We have gone for four hard-hitting areas. If people see us speaking out and being different they will think this is maybe a bit different.

“People have been fine-tuning this and I think Healthwatch is far more serious (than previous incarnations).

“This is a watchdog that has got teeth.”

Oxfordshire Rural Community Council won the £320,000-a-year contract to run Healthwatch Oxfordshire on an interim one-year basis from Oxfordshire County Council on March 31 – one day before the deadline.

The council has gone out to tender for a permanent contract from April – the interviews with potential candidates begin this week – and there is the possibility that the ORCC could lose the contract.

But Mr Roulston said: “I am coming into this absolutely convinced that we are going to win the tender. We will work as if we are going to continue to deliver Healthwatch.

“If we do not, we will have set a lot of hares running and then they are there for whoever picks it up to run with.”

Mr Roulston was previously the chief executive of Shefcare, a charity that provides care to the elderly, and the managing director of a housing association.

He replaced Rosalind Pearce as director of Healthwatch Oxfordshire after she stepped down in September for personal reasons.

Larry Sanders, the new chairman of Healthwatch Oxfordshire’s elected board, said: “We need to do things that are important, and these four areas are very important and are things that people are talking about or coming to us with complaints about.

“They also have to be things that we can make an impact on within a relatively short time.”

Mr Sanders, a former Green county councillor, became chairman two-and-a-half months ago.

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