Healthwatch members 'disband' as private company takes over
The volunteer group heading Kingston’s health scrutiny and public engagement body has disbanded following a takeover of the service by a private company.
Parkwood Healthcare was awarded a two-year contract to run Health Watch Kingston earlier this month.
Steering group members felt they had no role to fulfil until Parkwood revealed how it planned to run the service in April.
Sandra Berry, former chairwoman of Health Watch Kingston, said the scrutiny body’s work would not be affected by the steering group’s dissolution.
She said: “Every member of the steering group is a member of Health Watch and they will continue that watching brief over health and social care in Kingston, until we know what Parkwood plan to do.
“We are not going to let the people of Kingston down on this one. Health Watch is still functioning, but slightly differently. We have not heard from Parkwood at all.”
Parkwood Healthcare declined to comment.
The Health Watch initiative has been mired in controversy from the outset, including over concerns the groups would not be wholly independent because the councils whose services they are meant to scrutinise pay the organisation’s workers.
Kingston steering group members said in a newsletter this could damage the body’s credibility in the eyes of residents.
Ms Berry said: “People won’t come forward if they think we are in the pocket of the council.
“We would have needed very firm reassurance on the table to enable Health Watch to retain its independence.”
Members also said last month the level of funding allocated for the contract by Kingston Council was “unrealistic” given the need to recruit and train new staff if Health Watch was to run itself and expand its monitoring.
Malcolm Alexander, chairman of the National Association of Links Members, said: “I think it is really sad that what the Government and the council has done is to dismantle all the work the volunteers have done.”