The Advertiser this evening has covered an odd experience I had last night:
Every borough has to set up a health and wellbeing board as a part of Andrew Lansley’s top down reorganisation of the NHS. When ours was set up, through a decision of the Independent Mayor in his cabinet meeting of August 2011, it was agreed that the chair of the borough’s health scrutiny committee – me – would attend and speak. I turned up at my first meeting in October 2011. I was even on the agenda. I thanked the Mayor for his commitment to effective scrutiny and transparency.
I then didn’t get told about the second meeting. I asked about this, and was told that the Mayor would invite me if he wanted to. I pointed out to quite a range of people that this wasn’t quite right, as the Mayor’s own cabinet decision still stood, enshrined in the terms of reference of the board. I believed this to have been resolved as I was invited to attend the next meeting, in March.
Last night, when I turned up, I was asked by someone who told me he was acting on behalf of the Mayor to leave the room just before the meeting for a “quick chat”. The upshot of this chat was that I would not be able to re enter the room, because the Mayor didn’t want me there.
The Health and Wellbeing board currently operates in shadow form – it will become a statutory body next year. In reality it is where the power to shape our NHS and social care services already sits. Health scrutiny exists to ensure that those exercising those substantial powers are held to account.
There were numerous hugely important issues on the agenda for that meeting, including an increase in waiting times for cancer treatment in Tower Hamlets.
The NHS is under pressure. This Tory led government wasted £3.8 million in 2010 – 2011 making NHS staff redundant in Tower Hamlets. The cracks are now beginning to show. Local people are now waiting longer for their cancer care. Information from Barts tabled at the meeting, which is also publicly available, shows that in 2010/2011 93.3% of patients were treated within 62 days of their cancer screening. This has now dropped to 79.7 for 2011/2012. This means that the Trust’s own targets are now being missed. I wanted to attend this meeting because I wanted to raise that and a number of other concerns on behalf of the residents of Tower Hamlets.
I don’t know why the Independent Mayor agreed to my attending these meetings in August 2011 and has now changed his mind, but I am really concerned about what it means for democracy and transparency in Tower Hamlets. When the Mayor ignores rules he set out himself, it is difficult to trust that the council is being run properly. When elected councillors are unable to ask questions about why our cancer treatment times are going up, public confidence will suffer.
What has the Mayor got to hide?
Back up info:
· The Health and Wellbeing Board was set up through a Cabinet decision of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in August 2011.
Cabinet decision stated:
6.12. HWBB/Health Scrutiny Committee; It is acknowledged that a protocol will need to be developed covering the roles and relationship between Health Scrutiny and the HWBB. However to ensure clear and strong communication between them from the outset, it is proposed that the Chair of Health Scrutiny attends HWBB to report on Health Scrutiny activities and to comment on reports on the HWBB agenda, in a similar role to that already operating between Cabinet and the Chair of OSC.
No subsequent cabinet or mayoral decision has been published to reverse or alter this decision.
· The Health and Wellbeing Board brings together senior representatives from the Local Authority and NHS, with acute and primary care represented. When the board was set up in August 2011 it was agreed that the chair of Health Scrutiny would attend and speak. Cllr Saunders attended the first meeting of the board in October 2011, and a subsequent meeting in March 2012.
· In response to a Parliamentary Question, the Government revealed that the NHS has spent £169 million on making staff redundant in the year 2010-11, with £3.8 of that in Tower Hamlets. (Hansard, 20 Feb 2012 : Column 713W) http://www.theyworkforyou.com/wrans/?id=2012-02-20d.95613.h&s=andy+burnham#g95613.q0
· The Joint Health and Social Care scorecard shows that in 2010/2011 93.3% of patients were treated within 62 days of their cancer screening. This has now dropped to 79.7 for 2011/2012. The trust’s target is 85%.