PATIENT safety must not be compromised by NHS and social care budget cuts, says the new chairman of Oxfordshire’s official care watchdog.
New Yorker Larry Sanders warned of the “horrors” of the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust scandal, where up to 1,200 patients died, as he became Healthwatch’s first chairman.
Healthwatch, set up this year to replace Oxfordshire Local Involvement Network (LINk), has been established as what he calls “unprecedented” cuts are made.
Oxfordshire County Council, which runs social services and spends about £900m each year, says it must save £60m from 2014 to 2018 on top of the £74m already planned.
The NHS faces a £20bn “savings challenge” and will cut costs by about five per cent at hospitals run by Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust by 2018.
All this comes after one of the biggest reorganisations of the NHS, the transfer of major funding decisions from managers to a GP-led group, Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group.
Mr Sanders, 78, who isn’t paid for the role, said: “Budgets are not our problem. We are not in charge of budgets, our problem is what is happening on the ground.
“Mid Staffs can happen elsewhere. They had to cut £10m out their budget and the only way they did that was to get rid of nurses. They ended up with a horror.”
The watchdog function was carried out by Community Health Councils (CHC), of which Mr Sanders was a member from 1996 until their abolition for LINKs in 2003. This severed the link between individual complaints, which CHCs handled, and general issues, a link Mr Sanders wants restored by closer working with advocacy charity SEAP.
He said of his CHC work: “We knew about every complaint, it meant we were seeing the bigger picture.”
He said LINks “diluted” the work of CHCs by cutting budgets and, while working with senior managers about wider issues is important, contact with patients is key.
His love of the NHS stems from his arrival in England in 1968 and Oxford a year later, to take a social care course.
He said: “If we screw up the NHS is will be a very unpleasant place to live. I have seen what happens in America.”
A former county council Green Party leader, he represented East Oxford from 2005 to 2013 and is a member of Oxford Keep Our NHS Public, which fights use of NHS cash on private firms.