chamberlain forum

Would you like to influence local NHS services? Become part of the Patient Council!

by Claire Spencer

The Birmingham Cross City Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is recruiting ten local people to be part of a Patient Council, which will enable local people to influence health service commissioning across Birmingham. These Patients Reps will have an important role in involving local people in developing and improving services, as well as ensuring that the voice of patients is heard when health services are commissioned across the city.

The only criteria is that you need to be registered with GP practice which is a member of the CCG. In Moseley & Kings Heath, the following practices are members:

  • All Saints Medical Practice;
  • Poplar Primary Care Centre;
  • Wake Green Surgery;

Chamberlain Forum, who are helping the CCG to set up the Patient Council have produced a nifty summary of the Patient Council’s responsibilities:

  • Attending bi-monthly (2 hour) patient council meetings;
  • Attending a bi-monthly training and development session (2 hour) or as required;
  • Providing your views from a patient perspective to inform and to assist the CCG to commission health services;
  • Collective working to generate ideas and solutions to inform commissioning plans;
  • Championing the voice of patients and carers, particularly those who are seldom heard;
  • Building a common understanding about the health care needs of patients;

If this seems like something you’d like to consider, the CCG and Chamberlain Forum are holding an Open Evening on September 10th to explore what the role involves – click here to book yourself a place. Alternatively, you can email Paul Slatter from Chamberlain Forum (paul@chamberlainforum.org), who will happily answer any questions you might have.

The deadline for expressing an interest is 17th September – so get applying!

Devolution in practice: why more public meetings ≠ more influence

by Claire Spencer

This admission will surprise no-one who has met me, but I am quite a fan of public meetings. I like it when people get together to share ideas, question received wisdom and debate in an open space. I like it that you can never quite anticipate who will come, or what they will say. And I certainly like it when decision-makers have to develop, discuss and explain their decisions with people affected by those decisions. Public meetings are a crucial element of democracy and (certainly as far as public institutions and agencies are concerned) need to be part of an overall, ongoing consultation strategy.

But not all public meetings give the public that opportunity to shape or interrogate decisions. When I worked at Chamberlain Forum, we produced a report into public sector consultation called ‘Are you being heard?‘, following a cross-sector research project. One thing that became clear was:

…that the insights of both residents and local public services may be ignored because decisions have already been made at a higher level, removed from the locality they will affect.

One example sticks in my mind particularly clearly. A couple of years ago, those assembled at that month’s Moseley & Kings Heath Ward Committee meeting were told by the Chair that the Safer Birmingham Partnership was offering money (£100,000 + contribution to the running costs) to install CCTV in the centre of Moseley – in response to antisocial behaviour issues in the area. The community was to be consulted on the locations of the cameras. One gentleman asked whether the money might be spent on youth services instead. Others agreed, why not spend the money on more preventative measures?

But the decision had been made. The community could decide whether to have the CCTV or not, and where it would go…but they were not part of the strategic decision-making process around crime and antisocial behaviour, or even present during a conversation where that strategy was being developed.

This situation didn’t arise due to a lack of public meetings. Rather, the substance of the decision had already been made by central and local government before it got to the public. There could have been 3, 5, 10 public meetings and it wouldn’t have changed a thing – the choice was CCTV, or no CCTV.

As such, Birmingham Labour’s localisation and devolution proposals do not seek to give local people more public meetings – they seek to give people more power to influence decisions that affect them by bringing those decisions to District (constituency*) level. Decisions about housing, youth services, community and play services, libraries, community safety, neighbourhood offices, sport and leisure services, refuse collection and street cleansing, highways services and environmental wardens are all made at District Level under Labour’s plans.

How much of a difference would this have made to my earlier example? There are a couple of things. Firstly, the ability to influence housing, community safety, youth services, sport and leisure services and environmental wardens would have given the community more scope to shape preventative approaches to crime and antisocial behaviour from the start. Secondly, a closer relationship between those services and local people would have made earlier involvement of the community in exploring CCTV as part of a response to crime and ASB more likely.

I prefer Labour’s system – different areas have somewhat different needs and priorities, and should be able to reflect those needs and priorities in the services they commission. But under both the old and the new systems, there is a crucial element which determines the success or failure of involvement and local influence – a culture of listening and communicating within Birmingham City Council (extending from officers and councillors and extending to contractors and delivery partners). If decision-makers do not listen when people speak to them, or do not provide adequate mechanisms for conversations to occur, all the advantages of devolution – engineered co-production, tailored services, community buy-in – are lost.

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In a somewhat roundabout fashion, this brings me to the reason for writing this. Some people were unhappy at one part of Labour’s localisation and devolution proposals – namely that District (formerly Constituency) Committees would a) be based in the city centre and b) no longer allow members of the  public to speak. They felt that this amounted to slicing their influence in half.

My argument, based on the above, is that shortening the distance between people and decision-makers, and the culture of listening and communicating, is far more important. In my experience as a community activist, the most meaningful influence over local decision-making occurs via emails, conversations and community-organised meetings and events. If decision-makers are serious about engagement, they will use a multitude of tools and structures to listen.

But I do have some sympathy for those who are worried. After all, trust in systems, in people, has to be earned. Ultimately, the District Committees have the power to meet where they like – and some have already started to exercise that power. If the expenses of meeting locally are significant, or if extra meetings have to be held, then those committees will have to demonstrate that the benefits of holding the meeting locally justifies the expenditure. Conversely, those that hold meetings centrally will want to consider whether they are getting value from that arrangement. Time and practice will tell.

 

 

*the distinction between District and Constituency has been questioned by a few people that I have spoken to. The Districts align with the current parliamentary constituencies. When the boundaries of the parliamentary constituencies change (one proposal is that Moseley & Kings Heath and Sparkbrook join Selly Oak and Edgbaston to make a new Birmingham Edgbaston constituency), the Districts will not change with them. This is to ensure that the City Council escapes from service delivery complications arising from wards outside of the Birmingham local authority area (such as Castle Bromwich) becoming part of Birmingham parliamentary constituencies.

 

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