Patients’ groups in Oxfordshire have joined forces in a bid to create a new consumer champion for the county – a move that has received a ringing endorsement from Prime Minister David Cameron.
Representatives of 14 voluntary and community sector organisations have formed a Community Benefit Society to tender for the establishment of a Local Healthwatch body – a UK first
The Government wants every local authority in England to establish a Local Healthwatch – to replace existing Local Involvement Networks – by April next year.
And David Cameron has welcomed the establishment of the new organisation, describing it as “the Big Society in action.”
In a letter of support to members of the Oxfordshire Community Benefit Society, Mr Cameron said: “It is a fantastic example of the sort of response we need to the challenges our country is currently facing.
“It is wonderful to see Oxfordshire’s voluntary and community sector organisations coming together for the good of our local communities and I want to wish them and OCBS the very best for a long and successful future.”
The Department of Health says the independent organisations will give citizens and communities a stronger voice to influence and challenge how health and social care services are provided locally.
Healthwatch bodies will also have a seat on the Health and Wellbeing Board in each area, to ensure that the views and experiences of patients, carers and other service users are taken into account when local needs assessments and strategies are prepared.
The not-for-profit co-operative model – with its ‘open door’ policy and equal say for every member – has been specifically designed to allow for the widest possible organisational and individual membership.
Jim Pettipher, deputy director of Co-operative Futures, a business development agency which helped OCBS through incorporation, said: “One of the key requirements of Local Healthwatch is that it must represent and be representative of everyone in its area.
“The Community Benefit Society model is perfect for this as any person or organisation that shares its objects is eligible to join on a one member one vote basis, and its objects are to benefit the community’s health, care and wellbeing.
“The founding members are really keen that every community should be represented by as many people joining as possible and membership is and will remain free.
“As soon as they have their membership ducks in a row, the founding members will be welcoming people and organisations into membership and asking them to help make the OCBS really matter.”
The OCBS model – which was devised and funded by co-operatives in the UK – can be replicated for free by any organisation, group of organisations, or authorities that want to deliver Healthwatch in their area as a co-operative.
The constitution of OCBS, which is in the process of applying for charitable statues, also enables the body to carry out functions beyond its original remit, should any local authority choose to procure it to do so.
The founding members of Oxfordshire Community Benefit Society include:Oxfordshire Rural Community Council, Oxfordshire Community and Voluntary Action, Oxfordshire Wheel, Oxfordshire LINk, Oxfordshire Family Support Programme, Age UK Oxfordshire, Community Partnership, North Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire Carers’ Forum, Oxfordshire Advocacy, SEAP, Evirias (SE) Ltd, Patient Voice, The Midcounties Co-operative, Community Glue.
For more information about Oxfordshire Community Benefit Society, contact Linda Watson at firstname.lastname@example.org
Anyone interested in forming a Community Benefit Society to tender for a Local Healthwatch contract in their area should contact Jim Pettipher at Co-operative Futures at email@example.com or on 01452 543030.