New health watchdog for Havering is in search of volunteers

Ian Buckmaster, Healthwatch Havering

Ian Buckmaster, Healthwatch Havering - Credit: Archant

A recently-formed health watchdog is looking for volunteers to keep an eye on local services in Havering.

Havering Healthwatch took over from the Local Involvement Network, or LINk, on April 1.

Billed as “the new independent consumer champion created to gather and represent the views of the public,” Havering Healthwatch will enable people who use local services to report concerns about the quality of health care.

Volunteers looked-for by Healthwatch will run the gamut between those who work in the health service or care homes, to those who aren’t connected professionally but may be especially interested as users of the service, or with relatives who use the service.

Ian Buckmaster, director of the new organisation, spoke to the Romford Recorder about some of the problems that faced the public in the past. He highlighted the case of the Mid Staffordshire Hospital, a scandal in which an investigation discovered unusually high mortality rates among inpatients.

“Members of the public were of course unable to determine problems with the treatment,” Mr Buckmaster said, “but they clearly saw problems with the level of care in the hospital. Nobody seemed to know who to complain to.

“We’re set up just for that: so people can tell us when they have concerns.”

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Particularly important for Havering residents will be the case of Queens Hospital, which has serious problems in its A&E and Maternity units.

Healthwatch will be taking over where the LINk left off in this respect, and next week will be leading a two-day assessment in all parts of the hospital.

Once new volunteers have been recruited, one of their first asks, Mr Buckmaster said, is likely to be assessing the progress that has been made at the Queens. “We will be vociferous about any shortcomings we find,” he said.

Volunteers at Healthwatch will be divided into “lead,” “active” and “supporter” groups according to their specialisation and the amount of time they are able to dedicate each week.

They can get involved in a range of activities including engagement, sitting on steering groups or committees, becoming a community champion or getting involved in “enter and view” visits looking at services as they are delivered.

“Lead members” will be expected to contribute around five hours a week, although “nobody’s going to stand by with a stop watch,” Mr Buckmaster said. They will also take a pro-active role in managing the organisation itself, and taking the lead in what volunteers do.

“Active Members” who will be the “eyes and ears” of the community, are specialists who contribute two hours per week.

“Supporter members” will be those who can’t commit to a specific time but who have an interest in health matters and want to contribute in some way. That could mean standing by a stall, or contributing by email.

Asked what benefits local people could expect from the change, Mr Buckmaster said that the The LINk was very effective but lacked some of the teeth that the Government has now given to Healthwatch.

“You don’t need to be a pro to know there’s a problem,” Mr Buckmaster said. “By putting patients, service users and their friends and families at the heart of policy development for health care, the Government believes that tragedies such as those of the Mid-Staffordshire Hospital can in future be avoided.”