Local Involvement Networks
Local Involvement Networks (LINks) were launched by England's National Health Service in April 2008 following the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 . They replace the Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health (CPPIH) and Patient and Public Involvement Forums and now exist in every local authority area with a responsibility for NHS health care and social services . There are now 151 LINks in place and the Government committed £84 million in funding to them until March 2011.
LINks ask people what they like and dislike about NHS care services and adult social care services and seek ideas from the public to help improve services. They explore specific issues of concern to the community by collecting feedback from local people. LINks can tell those who commission, provide and manage local services what the community thinks and work with commissioners and providers to improve, amend, reconfigure and supplement services. They also have the power to carry out visits to services to see them at work. They facilitate and influence consultation on new or revised commissioning and provision of services.
All LINks have the power to ask health and care commissioners for information about their services and expect a response within 20 days. They also issue reports and make recommendations about services and expect responses from commissioners. The power to enter certain services and view the care provided is called Enter & View. LINk members must undergo training in order to carry out this power. LINks can also refer health & social care matters to the local council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee if local service providers to not provide a satisfactory response.
LINks are independently run by the people that belong to it – an elected committee of members and volunteer participants – individuals and groups, from the community. Their role is to find out what people want, monitor local services and to use their powers to hold those services to account. There is no set structure for a LINk, but the idea is that a LINk will only work effectively if it involves the whole community. Funding comes from local councils, who have been given money by the Department of Health to finance LINks. Each LINk is hosted by a "host organisation" of paid staff who to set up and support the LINk. The host is accountable to the LINk. LINks are independent of the Government. An example of a host organisation is Voluntary Norfolk, the lead partner of a consortium selected as the host for Norfolk LINk.
Anyone who wants to have their say on how health and social care services are delivered in their area can become a member of a LINk. The principle is that "everyone's views matter". For example:
- Individuals, such as carers, service users, community leaders, patient representatives.
- Health and social care professionals, as long as any conflict of interest are appropriately handled or managed.
- Groups, such as charities, faith groups, tenant organisations, youth councils, business federations.
LINks have been set up to give people a range of ways to get involved, whether this just taking a few minutes to answer a survey or taking more time to train as a representative who visits services to see how they are run.
In July 2010 the Government released a White Paper called Liberating the NHS. The White Paper proposed the abolition of LINks and the introduction of Local HealthWatch, this was included in the Health and Social Care Act 2012. The intention is to strengthen public influence and involvement in health and social care, as well as to remove the ambiguity of the current 'hosting' arrangements.
Originally scheduled for April 2012, but now delayed until April 2013, it is envisaged that local HealthWatch will build upon the existing functions of LINks to include the provision of information and advice to help people make choices about health and care services as well as the possibility of providing an advocacy service for people making a complaint using the NHS complaints process.
A HealthWatch England will also be set up. Under current proposals, HealthWatch England will be set up as an independent arm of the Care Quality Commission, with a specific remit to represent at a national level people using health and social care services. HealthWatch England will use evidence from Local HealthWatch and from carrying out its own work to identify concerns and poorly performing services. It will then be able to recommend to Care Quality Commission that they investigate those services.