End of an era for Norfolk health watchdog

The Host Team(l to r) Sarah Scannell, Carole Ponniah, Karl Hills, Victoria Cook and Bex Day at the f

The Host Team(l to r) Sarah Scannell, Carole Ponniah, Karl Hills, Victoria Cook and Bex Day at the farewell event for patient-led health watchdog Norfolk Local Involvement Network.PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY - Credit: Archant Norfolk

A group, which has given a voice to patients across Norfolk, held a farewell event yesterday, amid concerns about the body taking its place.

The Norfolk Local Involvement Network (LINk) has been campaigning for better health and social care services in the county for the last five years.

However, the health watchdog, which has more than 1,000 members, will wind up next week ahead of the reform of the NHS under the coalition government.

From April 1, the views of patients and members of the public will be represented by a new organisation - Healthwatch Norfolk.

However, members of Norfolk LINk yesterday raised concerns about whether Healthwatch was ready to act as a patient voice after it emerged that the new body was only starting a recruitment process this week and had only just signed a lease on a headquarters.

Chris MacDonald, from the new group, told attendees at a Norfolk LINk farewell event at Costessey that a new Healthwatch Norfolk chief executive was set to start from April 8 and the organisation would be employing five members of staff with offices in Hethersett. She also called on Norfolk LINk members to join up.

'It is a new organisation and we are in the process of recruiting a permanent chair. It will be a soft launch from April 2, but we are conscious to produce results as soon as possible and we want to demonstrate what we are doing and what impact we are having, certainly before 18 months,' she said.

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Work to set up Healthwatch Norfolk began two years ago and is made up of a number of different organisations, including Age UK, Norfolk Rural Community Council, older peoples' forums, and other voluntary groups.

Norfolk LINk, which replaced patient and public involvement forums, has campaigned on a range of health issues over the last five years including a much-praised project on boosting the healthcare of inmates in Norfolk prisons and the monitoring of dementia services. It has served as a 'critical friend' of local health trusts.

Mark Ganderton, lead on adult health at Norfolk LINk, said the organisation was made up of former NHS staff, current and previous patients and service users. 'The patient and public involvement and how they are represented has always evolved as the NHS has. This falls in line with all the changes in the NHS,' he said.