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Strengthening our sector’s voice

Dr Charlotte Augst

Charlotte Augst, Chief Executive of National Voices, writes about National Voices recent contribution to the new NHS England legislation proposals.

  • Lived experience

We all know that health is about more than services, and that services themselves are only partly shaped by the legal duties and guidance that are supposed to govern them.

And we know that huge reorganisations of NHS structures soak up energy and resources while rarely having a noticeable effect on outcomes.

But with new healthcare legislation being considered, it is important that the interests of people who use services, and of other sectors than the NHS, are properly voiced and considered.

That is why, when NHS England invited National Voices into a multi-sector conversation about the next piece of NHS lawmaking, we decided it was worth engaging. Today the results of this confidential conversation have been published.

They include a set of recommendations to government, based on a carefully constructed consensus, for modest new measures to aid the integration of services and smooth out obstacles left by the last big Act in 2012.

We were asked to contribute after we responded to a national consultation, and then to the House of Commons Health Select Committee, which gave our views significant support.

On behalf of our VCSE members, National Voices has helped to ensure that:

  • The proposals don’t just have an ‘NHS’ internal focus – they encompass the concerns of integration partners including local government and the voluntary sector;
  • The NHS has agreed that, for the first time in law, it should have a recognised goal of working for people’s ‘wellbeing’, not just for high quality healthcare – which helps councils and our sector to feel we have a common goal for integrated care and support; and
  • There is a united ‘ask’ for government to continue this inclusive, consensual approach as the legislation is prepared and scrutinised.

The recommendations also express a national NHS commitment to keep looking for effective ways to work with our sector and strengthen ‘coproduction’ with communities.

New legal duties for coproduction may not be effective; but we know that without action at other levels, there may be a clamour for something in the law from our frustrated colleagues and networks.

We don’t have to love every word in the resulting documents. An inclusive process from here onwards should allow any imperfections in the proposals to be identified and dealt with by consensus.

But it is great to know that good people coming together in good faith can agree on a sensible set of proposals.

With everything else going in politics at the moment, it was a reminder what can be achieved through reasoned debate and listening to differing viewpoints. There is hope for us all!