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Devon County Council Solicitor reminds health scrutiny committee of its responsibilities

Thursday, 23 November 2017 0 Comments by Claire

Devon County Council’s solicitor, Jan Shadbolt, reminded the Health and Adult Care Scrutiny Committee of its legal responsibilities at Tuesday’s (21 November) meeting.

I had asked for this agenda item following a disastrous meeting in July where a referral to the Secretary of State for Health on the closure of 72 community hospital beds in Eastern Devon was thwarted by the Conservative members of the committee, resulting in over 20 complaints from members of the public.

A standards investigation into the behaviour of the committee chair followed.

Mrs Shadbolt read out a paragraph from the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry, led by Sir Robert Francis in 2013.  Many people had tragically died there as a result of poor care.

The local council’s scrutiny committee was deemed to have failed in its duty to effectively scrutinise the local health trust and identify problems. 

Mrs Shadbolt said it was the first time that non-executive members of a local authority were held to account because they were deemed to have failed in their duty.

New regulations were brought in afterwards to beef up the legal powers of health scrutiny committees.  These were that health scrutiny committees can:
- Require a local officer to attend to answer questions
- Expect to be consulted by an NHS body or service provider on substantial developments (although there is no definition of substantial developments)
- Refer to the Secretary of State for Health (subject to a series of constraints)

The county solicitor told the committee that we had a “very powerful role to play within the community” and that we were “unique in scrutiny committees” on that basis.

Conservative, Phil Twiss wanted to know who “scrutinises the scrutineers.”  The county solicitor replied that the ultimate scrutiny was being called to account over the failure of a service provider, but that generally speaking councillors were answerable to the community.

Cllr Twiss then wanted to know how the committee knew it was performing properly.  Mrs Shadbolt said that the committee’s role was to ask pertinent questions and to call any officer to present to it. She added that there are all sorts of bodies who can give information to help with this, such as Healthwatch.

Conservative councillor, Paul Crabbe, wanted to remind the committee that this agenda item had been added because “some members felt we failed to scrutinise correctly…” He went on to say that a “chap from south Devon was fizzing with excitement over the success and how about how wonderful his new system was” then they were later asked to vote that it was “rubbish.”

Cllr Crabbe said that this struck him as a nonsense then and still struck him as a nonsense and just because the committee voted against “someone’s particular view” it didn’t necessarily mean that the committee was not fulfilling its role.

Liberal Democrat, Cllr Brian Greenslade asked the county solicitor to remind councillors that scrutiny is not a normal committee of the council in that it is not supposed to be political. He said that he thought it was worth underlining this point…

Here’s the webcast - https://devoncc.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/302658

Pic:  Jan Shadbolt addresses the committee at Tuesday’s meeting.

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