Notes from Netroots UK, and NHS total defence

So I went to the TUC’s Netroots UK shindig yesterday. I missed the first session, and chose to not go to the one with Paul Mason in order to go to one with practical content, specifically Richard Blogger and Ellie Mae O’Hagan’s on defending the NHS from within. Having joined an NHS foundation trust, it seemed useful.

Things that are worth knowing follow. First of all, Richard Blogger has the only sensible org chart for this I’ve ever seen. (You may remember our local NHS finance director’s effort to explain it.) A key fact is that there are some 10,000 elective or otherwise representative posts that want filling in the new structure. This is the biggest opportunity for shameless entryism in decades. If there are going to be representatives on boards for GP practices, there may be at least another 5,000 and perhaps more.

At the same time, the Health & Wellbeing Boards are standing up. These will incorporate between 500 and 1,000 local councillors. Town hall politics just got very important, and isn’t the big Labour win in the local elections sounding useful right now? A lot of these appointments will happen in the next 3 months, so you better get weaving.

This raises an important strategic question. Is it better to concentrate on entryism or lobbying (and electoral politics)?

Resources for people joining foundation trusts, CCGs, scrutiny committees, H&WBs, MH&WBs, etc. are poor and this is our fault. I met a couple of other people who had signed up, like me, and were now wondering what the next step was. Further, everyone else involved has staff except for the public. An argument can be made that it’s a better use of our valuable time to target the councillors. Councillors are expected to put in the hours, they get the support of officials, they get expenses. And they are subject to re-election, so they’ve got to listen.

The scrutiny committees are powerful, and are probably good targets. Also, the H&WBs (and of course the MH&WBs) have to prepare a strategy, which then informs the CCGs’ decisions. This is perhaps the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment I heard about, and sounds both important and also something councillors bear on.

I don’t think there is a clear answer here, at least not while the Labour Party itself hasn’t damn well ordered Labour councillors to join the committees. At least we didn’t arrive at one.

One thing that is a clear answer is that HealthWatch is apparently subject to compulsory tender, so we can probably write that one off. By contrast, it turns out, there is no statutory duty to tender for actual NHS services, and the campaign in Stroud set a legal precedent in this line. Unfortunately, the “Fighting the Cuts through the Courts” session clashed with this one, as lawyers rapidly turned out to be a big issue.

Another item on the schedule is the revision of the NHS constitution, which is a document with legal force. A working party is currently in being, including both Virgin and UNISON, with a consultation later this year.

An important operational issue seems to be access to information. Local authorities have to publish their forward plans and agendas ahead of time, and it’s not clear if this is so of CCGs.

As an interesting side question, someone wants to know what’s happening with “Dr Foster”, the semi-private thingy which acts as a combined management information system and media shop for the NHS.

Anyway, the take-aways for action were to get FOIA requests in for any and all consulting reports about CCGs and CSOs at the local level, and to identify the people writing H&WB strategy documents and lobby them.

This reminded me that MySociety built a Web application for recruiting local volunteers in constituencies and pushing out calls-to-action, Democracy Club, and indeed managed to get 100% coverage in the run-up to the 2010 election for things like collecting election literature and details of candidates.

It also reminded me, and I buttonholed Sunny Hundal about this, that somebody should be paying Richard Blogger.

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